Dr. Ausim Azizi, chair of the department of neurology at Temple School of Medicine, in Philadelphia, called the new research a well-designed study. But he wonders if weight gain was the cause of increased cognitive decline, or if head injuries incurred during the players' careers led to poorer decision-making about diet and health, which, in turn, led to weight increase.
"Was the weight gain a cause or an effect of brain injury?" Azizi asked.
Either way, being overweight is concerning, he said, because it can lead to or exacerbate other health problems, including high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, both linked to cognitive decline.
"Being overweight is an index of other diseases," Azizi said.
Neuropsychologist Summer Ott, co-director of the Methodist Concussion Center in Houston, said that while the study suggests weight gain may be linked to cognitive problems in later life, she believes many factors are at play in the retired athletes and they need to be addressed.
"We don't want to put all our eggs in one basket and say cognitive decline is all due to head injury and obesity," said Ott, who has worked with athletes.
She said a multifaceted approach to brain health -- including management of head injury early in a player's career and then access to health resources after retirement -- would benefit the players.
"When they quit their sport, a weight-management program coupled with psychotherapy and resilience training would help," Ott said. "What I believe is happening, especially with those who retire early, is that a significant change in their identity occurs. It's sort of like those in the military. The players are coming back and reintegrating into a whole new environment. They aren't with their guys anymore. They've put all empha
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