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An Exploratory Study of Mild Cognitive Impairment of Retired Professional Contact Sport Athletes

Baker, John G., PhD; Leddy, John J., MD; Hinds, Andrea L., PhD; Haider, Mohammad N., MD; Shucard, Jennifer, PhD; Sharma, Tania, PhD; Hernandez, Sergio, MD; Durinka, Joel, MD; Zivadinov, Robert, MD; Willer, Barry S., PhD

Section Editor(s): Willer, Barry S. PhD; Leddy, John J. MD

The Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation: September/October 2018 - Volume 33 - Issue 5 - p E16–E23
doi: 10.1097/HTR.0000000000000420
TBI in Retired Contact Sport Athletes

Objective: To test the hypothesis that mild cognitive impairment (MCI) rates are higher among retired professional contact sport athletes than in noncontact athlete controls and compare history of contact sports with other MCI risk factors.

Setting: University Concussion Management Clinic.

Participants: Twenty-one retired National Football League and National Hockey League players and 21 aged-matched noncontact athlete controls.

Designs: Case-control.

Main Measures: Comprehensive criteria were used to assess MCI based on the following: Wisconsin Card Sorting Test, Delis-Kaplan Executive Function System; Trail Making Parts A and B; Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale–Third Edition subtests; Neuropsychological Assessment Battery Memory Module List Learning, Story Learning, and Naming subtests; and Controlled Oral Word Association Test. The Wide Range Achievement Test was used as a proxy measure for IQ. Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease risk factors were self-reported and blood cholesterol was measured. Depression was measured by the Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI).

Results: Eight contact sport athletes (38%) and 3 noncontact athletes (14%) met MCI criteria (P = .083). Contact sport athletes' scores were significantly worse on Letter Fluency and List B Immediate Recall. Contact athletes were more obese, had more vascular risk factors, and had higher scores on the BDI than controls.

Conclusion: Athletes with a history of playing professional contact sports had more vascular risk factors and higher depression scores. MCI rates were somewhat higher, though not significant.

UBMD Department of Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine (Drs Baker, Leddy, Haider, Shucard and Sharma), Department of Nuclear Medicine (Dr Baker), Department of Psychiatry (Drs Hinds, Hernandez, and Willer), Department of Neurology (Dr Zivadinov), and Department of Internal Medicine (Dr Durinka), School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, State University of New York at Buffalo.

Corresponding Author: John G. Baker, PhD, UBMD Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, 160 Farber Hall, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY 14214 (

The authors thank the following organizations for financial support: The National Institutes of Health (NIH), (National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences) award number UL1TR001412; the Robert Rich Family Foundation; and the Ralph and Mary Wilson Foundation. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH or any other funding source. The authors also thank the research team at Boston University, in particular Dr Robert Stern, for their willingness to share their protocol for evaluation of neurocognitive performance.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Copyright © 2018 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.