This study aimed to estimate prevalence of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and dementia diagnoses in former National Football League (NFL) players ≥50 yr old and examine the relationships among these diagnoses and an array of predictors of long-term brain health.
A cross section of former NFL players (n = 922; mean ± SD age, 64.8 ± 8.9 yr) completed a questionnaire. Prevalence of self-reported medical diagnoses of MCI and dementia was reported alongside U.S. population estimates across 5-yr age intervals (e.g., 60–64 yr). Prevalence ratios (PR) were calculated for multiple predictors of long-term brain health.
Overall, MCI prevalence and dementia prevalence were n = 219(23.8%) and n = 82(8.9%), respectively. Each diagnosis was more prevalent in former NFL players across age-groups than U.S. norms, with greater disparities at relatively younger ages (e.g., 65–69 yr) compared with older ages. Greater prevalence of MCI and dementia was associated with self-reported concussion history (10+ vs 0; PRadjusted [95% CI] = 1.66 [1.02–2.71] and 2.61 [1.01–6.71], respectively); recent pain intensity (PRadjusted [95% CI] = 1.13 [1.07–1.20] and 1.15 [1.03–1.28]); and diagnoses of depression (PRadjusted [95% CI] = 2.70 [1.92–3.81] and 3.22 [1.69–6.14]), anxiety (PRadjusted [95% CI] = 1.96 [1.26–3.07] and 3.14 [1.47–6.74]), or both (PRadjusted [95% CI] = 3.11 [2.38–4.08] and 4.43 [2.71–7.25]). Higher MCI prevalence was related to sleep apnea (PRadjusted [95% CI] = 1.30 [1.06–1.60]); higher dementia prevalence was associated with age (5-yr interval, PRadjusted [95% CI] = 1.42 [1.26–1.60]) and race (non-White vs White, PRadjusted [95% CI] = 1.64 [1.07–2.53]).
Self-reported MCI prevalence and dementia prevalence were higher in former NFL players than national estimates and were associated with numerous personal factors, including mood-related disorders and a high number of self-reported concussions. Predictors of higher MCI and dementia prevalence may be modifiable and warrant consideration by clinicians and researchers as potential targets to mitigate the onset of these conditions.