National Football League (NFL) players may be at increased risk of depression as they age due to brain damage resulting from concussions, according to two studies released today that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 65th Annual Meeting in San Diego, March 16 to 23, 2013.
"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 1.6 to 3.8 million sports concussions occur each year. While it is known that sports concussions can cause immediate disturbances in mood and thinking, few studies have investigated the long-term effects that may emerge later in life, especially those related to depression," said study author Nyaz Didehbani, PhD, of the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas. "Our study shows that athletes who have sustained concussions in early adulthood may be at a higher risk for developing depression as they age compared to the general population. It is important when a concussive experience occurs that medical professionals appropriately include depression screening in their follow-up assessment. Depression is a treatable condition if the proper and necessary steps are taken."
In the first study, researchers evaluated 34 retired NFL athletes with a history of concussion and 29 people of the same age from the general population with no concussion history. Participants were tested for depression. Concussions were retrospectively graded based on American Academy of Neurology guidelines. The researchers examined thinking skills, mood and the physical symptoms of depression.
The study found that those athletes who exhibited greater symptoms on the Beck Depression Inventory scored significantly higher than the minimal range for depressive symptoms. The Beck Depression Inventory measures symptoms related to thinking, mood and the physical signs of depression. The retired athletes included in the study reported an average of four concussions, reinforcing the correlation between depression scores and the number of lifetime concussions.