MONDAY, July 18 (HealthDay News) -- Retired pro football players may face a higher risk of mild cognitive impairment, a potential precursor of Alzheimer's disease, a new study suggests.
"It appears there may be a very high rate of cognitive impairment in these retired football players, compared to the general population in that age range," said lead researcher Christopher Randolph, a neuropsychologist at Loyola Medical University Medical Center in Chicago.
Randolph was scheduled to present the study findings Monday at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference 2011, in Paris.
A second study to be presented at the conference found military veterans who had suffered a traumatic brain injury faced more than twice the risk of developing dementia.
"Traumatic head injury is the best known environmental risk for late-life dementia," said Dr. Sam Gandy, a professor of neurology and psychiatry and associate director of the Mount Sinai Alzheimer's Disease Research Center in New York City, who was not involved with either study.
"Football, soccer, hockey and exposures to IEDs [improvised explosive devices] in Iraq and Afghanistan are all contributing to the incidence of late-life dementia," he added.
The first study found that men who played in the National Football League seem to have a higher risk of developing mild cognitive impairment, which can lead to Alzheimer's disease.
The debate over head injuries among pro football players and the potential for lasting neurological damage has generated a steady stream of headlines in recent years. Last summer, the National Football League issued posters for locker rooms that alerted players to the possible effects of concussions, using words like "depression" and "early onset of dementia," according to The New York Times.
Randolph's study found that among 513 retired players, 35 percent had si
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