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Football Players Face Higher Depression Risk Due To Frequent Concussions

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Professional American football players who often get concussions as a result of head collisions may face a higher risk of depression, according to new research.

The US study examined 34 retired NFL players with an average age of 62 who had suffered concussions during their sports careers and 29 healthy individuals from the general population with no concussion history.

The researchers, led by Nyaz Didehbani of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas, Dallas, found that the more concussions NFL players sustain, the greater their odds of showing depressive symptoms.

The depressive symptoms most closely associated with concussions included feelings of sadness, feelings of guilt and critical self-evaluations. The study found that the majority of NFL players (60%) with a history of concussion did not have impaired thinking or mood problems, which is good news, though further research is needed into other factors such as genetic risk and years played to address head injury risks.

The findings add to similar results from another study conducted by the same team of researchers, which showed that 24% of retired NFL players suffered from depression against 10-15% of the general population.

The researchers hope that the most recent data, which will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology meeting in March, will lead to more screening for depression in those who have suffered concussions.

Concussions that professional football players endure can cause more serious damage to the brain than initially thought. The issue came into the spotlight after Boston University researchers found signs of a brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in over 30 professional football players. CTE, which can be diagnosed only posthumously, was found in the brains of three NFL players (Junior Seau, Dave Duerson and Ray Easterling) who committed suicide, Fox News reports.

Concussions can damage the brain’s white matter. Earlier research showed that children with concussions had changes in their brains’ white matter that were present three months after the occurrence of the concussion. In the new study, the researchers found that they can predict depression by taking images of the brain’s white matter of the players, which is important in addressing the longer-term consequences of head injuries.