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Two new studies show that National Football League (NFL) players may be at increased risk for depression as they get older because of concussions sustained during their careers.
Preliminary results of the studies, one led by Nyaz Didehbani, PhD, from the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas, and the other by Kyle Womack, MD, from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, were released January 16 and will be presented in March at the American Academy of Neurology 65th Annual Meeting in San Diego, California.
"The hope of our work with former NFL players at the Center for BrainHealth is to increase awareness of the possible role of concussions in the development of depressive symptoms," Dr. Didehbani said.
"We hope that these findings will encourage health practitioners to add a depressive screener to cognitive assessments following concussions or any other type of head injury. Often times, only a few questions related to mood are asked and more specific questions related to negative feelings, for instance feeling self-critical, feeling guilty, and somatic symptoms related to depression, such as loss of energy, changes in sleep and appetite, are overlooked," she said.
The study by Dr. Womack and colleagues used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and showed a relationship between white matter damage and depression in former football players.
"DTI measures of white matter integrity correlate highly with depression and may be useful in the future as diagnostic markers," senior author John Hart, MD, commented to Medscape Medical News. "Measures of white matter integrity also provide insights into mechanisms of depression associated with a previous history of concussions."
Immediate and Long-term Disturbance
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1.6 to 3.8 million sports concussions occur each year, Dr. Didehbani told Medscape Medical News. "We know that sports concussions can cause immediate disturbances in mood and thinking, but there have been few studies that have looked at the long-term effects that may emerge later in life, especially those related to depression."
Dr. Didehbani and his group studied 34 retired NFL athletes with a history of concussion and compared them with 29 age- and IQ-matched controls without a history of concussion.
They assessed study participants with several tests, including the Beck Depression Inventory II (BDI-II), the Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence, and a full neuropsychological battery, to assess thinking skills, mood, and physical symptoms of depression.
Concussions were retrospectively graded according to 1997 American Academy of Neurology guidelines. On average, the retired NFL players reported having 4 concussions during their playing careers.Continue Reading >>