Some of the former players were then given more comprehensive tests at the Center for the Study of Retired Athletes at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The ex-players were compared with 41 similar non-athletes with no cognitive impairment and with 81 people with cognitive impairment.
The former players had similar impairments as those non-athletes with cognitive impairment, but were significantly younger and slightly less impaired, the researchers found.
The findings suggest that repeated head trauma from playing football may lead to earlier onset of degenerative diseases, such as mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's, the researchers said.
"However, it would take additional studies to confirm this," Randolph said. "So for now, these studies should be considered very preliminary."
Dr. Ira R. Casson is a former co-chairman of the National Football League's panel on head injuries, and a neurologist at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. He said he "would be hesitant to draw any major conclusions from the study."
It isn't really known whether NFL players are at a higher risk for dementia, Casson said, adding there isn't a lot of data about the risk of mild cognitive impairment among men.
"If the question is do NFL players have a higher risk of dementia later in life than non-NFL players -- we don't have enough data to answer that yet," he said.
Results of the second study found that traumatic brain injury among older veterans was associated with a nearly threefold increased risk of dementia.
"The data suggest that traumatic brain injury in older veterans may predispose them toward development of symptomatic dementia. And they raise concern about the potential long-term consequences of TBI [traumatic brain injury] in younger veterans," lead researcher Dr. Kristine Yaffe, a professor of psychiatry, neurology and epidemiology at the U
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