A career in professional football does terrible things to the brain. Early-onset dementia; Alzheimer's; memory loss; chronic pain -- they've all been linked to the sport, which has prompted a few thousand former players and their family members are suing the NFL, saying it hid the dangers of the sport.
Stronger evidence is now emerging that the brain trauma suffered by professional football players causes depression. A new study led by researchers from the University of Texas at Dallas' Center for BrainHealth, which examined 34 former NFL players, most of them former Cowboys living in North Texas, discovered that a quarter of them suffer from clinical depression. That's a significantly higher rate than is found in the general population, which has a 15 percent depression rate.
In this case, researchers were able to link cases of depression and mild cognitive impairment with physical abnormalities revealed in brain scans of the participants, many of whom were recruited by former Cowboys fullback Darryl Johnston. Specifically, they detected abnormal blood flow in the brains of 26 patients and significant damage to their white matter.
"When you shake or move the brain, you can tear or damage the white matter," John Hart, medical science director for the Center for BrainHealth, told Bloomberg. "It doesn't necessarily always have to be the point of developing symptoms. We need better and more sophisticated ways of identifying things that lead to these symptoms."
But Hart was actually surprised he didn't find more damage.
"Half of the guys are perfectly fine," he told CBS 11. "That was kind of surprising that greater than half of the guys have no problem whatsoever."