WEDNESDAY, Jan. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Former NFL players who had concussions during their career could be more likely to experience depression later in life, and athletes who racked up a lot of these head injuries could be at even higher risk, two new studies contend.
The findings are especially timely following a report last week that a brain autopsy of former NFL player Junior Seau, who committed suicide last May, revealed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, likely due to multiple hits to the head. The disorder -- characterized by impulsivity, depression and erratic behavior -- is only diagnosed after death.
The first of the two studies of retired athletes found that the more concussions that players reported suffering, the more likely they were to have depressive symptoms, most commonly fatigue and lack of sex drive.
The second study, involving many of the same athletes, used brain imaging to identify areas that could be involved with these symptoms, and found extensive white matter damage among former players with depression.
The research, released on Jan. 16, will be presented in March at the American Academy of Neurology meeting in San Diego.
"We were very surprised to see that many of the athletes had high amounts of depressive symptoms," said Nyaz Didehbani, a research psychologist at the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas and lead author of the first study.
The study included 34 retired NFL players, as well as 29 healthy men who did not play football. The men's average age was about 60. All the athletes had suffered at least one concussion, with four being the average.
The researchers excluded athletes who showed signs of mental impairment such as memory problems because they wanted to study depression alone, Didehbani said.
Overall, the former players in the study had more depressive symptoms than the o
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