Concussion Experts Discuss Head Injuries in the NFL

Newberg with TrotterConcussions have become a huge issue for the NFL. Week after week players go down with serious brain-jarring head injuries with little known but much hypothesized about the long-term effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Last week, Philadelphia Eagles starting quarterback Michael Vick was knocked out of the game with a concussion.

Andrew Newberg, MD, a neuroscientist and director of Research at the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine is one of few trying to better understand the lasting effects of concussion-inducing head injuries.

Dr. Newberg and Daniel Amen, MD, of Newport Beach, CA studied brain images of 100 current and former NFL players and found that by age 74, the players had a significantly higher prevalence of cognitive impairment or dementia.

The prevalence of cognitive impairment in the general population under age 50 is small, 0.1 percent. In the study, 4.5 percent of subjects under 50 scored in the abnormal range.

“The information we glean from studying these players and the brain imaging for some, performed years after their playing days, could be extremely helpful in determining the long-term risks of playing a high-impact sport such as football and the lasting effects of head trauma on brain function,” says Newberg.

Dr. Newberg will discuss his research as part of a discussion with former Philadelphia Eagle, Jeremiah Trotter and sports psychologist Dr. Joel Fish on Art Fennell Reports, airing at 9 PM Sunday on the Comcast Network.

Additional results placed the majority of the players in the bottom percentile on general cognitive function, proficiency, processing speed, processing accuracy, attention, reasoning and memory, and in the top percentile in only two categories: spatial processing and reaction time.

Eighty percent of players scored 50 percent or higher as having probable ADHD and had a significantly higher incidence of depression (28 percent) than is found in the general population (9.5 percent).

Depression is also associated with lower levels of blood flow, especially in the frontal lobe of the brain, and has also been associated with brain injury.

While other factors may have influenced these findings, including past drug or alcohol abuse, depression, steroid abuse and brain injuries outside the NFL, Dr. Newberg says, “screening players upon entering the NFL may be an important step to understanding this problem further.”

Additional brain imagining studies, as well as studies to evaluate prevention and rehabilitation strategies are necessary.

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