A new study released in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows a link between concussions and memory problems. The research affirms retired football players are plagued with memory problems years after their NFL careers have ended.
The study is the first to combine both anatomical screening of the brain with performance on standard memory and cognitive tests. The study, conducted at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, shows that having a concussion, and in particular losing consciousness after a concussion, can have long-lasting effects on the brain. Participants included 28 retired National Football League athletes, 8 of whom had Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and a history of concussion, 21 cognitively healthy control participants, and 6 control participants with MCI without concussion.
Overall, the retired players performed worse on average on standard memory tests, suggesting that their history of concussion affected their memory skills. Additionally, imaging studies of the hippocampus (the region in the brain responsible for coordinating memory) revealed smaller hippocampal volumes than the control groups. The hippocampal volumes of retired players who were unconscious after concussion were even smaller than those of healthy controls, and the same was true for the athletes with MCI when compared to non-athletes with MCI.
Conclusion: Prior Concussions and Memory Problems Combined with Hippocampus Shrinkage
The JAMA study concludes, “Prior concussion that results in loss of consciousness is a risk factor for increased hippocampal atrophy and the development of MCI. In individuals with MCI, hippocampal volume loss appears greater among those with a history of concussion.”
Should NFL Football Helmets be Banned?
In 2014, the NFL released figures showing 228 diagnosed concussions during the 2013 season, and 261 in 2012. But just 152 concussions were listed on the league’s official injury report in the 2013 season, and only 171 were added in 2012 (which translates to approximately 10 concussions each week). Thus, the recent research regarding the long-lasting health implications of concussions in NFL football players has refueled the debate over the permanent ban of NFL helmets. And, some argue that the NFL should be banned altogether.
Proponents of the football helmet ban say that eliminating or changing the helmets would make the game safer. Former Pittsburg Steelers receiver Hines Ward has been an advocate for the helmet ban. “If you want to prevent concussions, take the helmet off. Play old-school football with the leather helmets, no facemask,” he said. “When you put a helmet on you’re going to use it as a weapon, just like you use shoulder pads as a weapon.”
What are your thoughts on banning helmets or the NFL altogether? Should football be permanently banned due to concussions and memory problems? Give us your feedback in the comments below.
References: Strain JF, Womack KB, Didehbani N, et al. Imaging Correlates of Memory and Concussion History in Retired National Football League Athletes. JAMA Neurol. Published online May 18, 2015.  Bradley, Bill, Current, former players suggest doing away with football helmets. NFL.com. Published online Dec. 16, 2013.