Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a known risk factor for neurodegenerative dementias such as Alzheimer disease (AD); however, the potential risk of mild cases of TBI, such as concussions, remains unclear.
To explore whether a small sample of retired professional athletes with a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI)—the prodromal stage of AD—and a history of multiple mild TBIs exhibit greater neuropsychological impairment than age-matched nonathletes with MCI and no history of TBI.
Ten retired National Football League players diagnosed with MCI and reporting multiple mild TBIs, and 10 nonathletes, also diagnosed with MCI but with no history of TBI, completed a standard neurologic examination and neuropsychological testing. Independent samples t tests were conducted to examine differences in neuropsychological performance between the two groups.
The retired athletes with a history of mild TBI obtained generally similar scores to the nonathlete controls on measures of verbal learning and memory, verbal fluency, and processing speed. However, the retired athletes scored lower than the controls on tests of confrontation naming and speeded visual attention.
Retired athletes with MCI and a history of mild TBI demonstrated similar neuropsychological profiles as nonathlete controls despite lower scores on measures of confrontation naming and speeded visual attention. These findings suggest that a history of multiple mild TBIs does not significantly alter the overall neuropsychological profile of individuals with MCI; confirmation of this will require longitudinal research with larger sample sizes.