Study to examine the risks for brain disorders from repetitive head impacts in contact sports

Internationally-renowned researchers from Boston University (BU) and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) are launching a new study, called the Head Impact & Trauma Surveillance Study (HITSS). HITSS will examine the risks for developing dementia, cognitive decline, and changes in behavior and mood later in life from repetitive head impacts (RHI) in soccer and tackle football. Funding for HITSS, which will be the largest study of its kind, is provided by a five-year grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the National Institute on Aging.

Millions of Americans are exposed to repetitive head impacts through participation in contact and collision sports. Exposure to repetitive hits to the head have been associated with later life brain disease and disorders," Stern continued. "However, critical gaps in scientific knowledge remain, and many important questions need to be answered. We developed HITSS to find these answers."

Robert Stern, PhD, HITSS Principal Investigator, Director of Clinical Research for the BU Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center and Professor of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Anatomy & Neurobiology at BU School of Medicine

"Through HITSS, we want to determine whether subconcussive head impacts from ordinary plays, such as heading a soccer ball or routine blocking and tackling in football, increase risk for later life mood and behavioral changes, as well as for memory and thinking impairments," added HITSS co-investigator, Michael Weiner, M.D., Professor of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging, Medicine, Psychiatry, and Neurology at UCSF.

In addition to examining the risk factors for cognitive impairment, neurobehavioral dysregulation and dementia, HITSS aims to determine if sex, race, social determinants of health, vascular risk profile, sleep quality, and/or substance abuse modify risks from RHI exposure from participation in soccer and tackle football.

HITSS is a fully-online, annual assessment, which includes: questions about sports participation, RHI exposure, and concussion and medical history; computerized memory and cognitive tests; and behavior and mood questionnaires. The entire survey can be completed in around two hours, in the comfort and privacy of the participant's home, at any time and over several days, if desired. HITSS is an extension of the existing Brain Health Registry (BHR) at UCSF, an online study, directed by Weiner, of more than 80,000 participants used for the study of people interested in participating in brain aging, Alzheimer's disease (AD), and AD related dementias research.

"While there have been significant research advances in recent years, past studies have been limited by focusing solely on former professional tackle football players and/or including only small numbers of male participants," stated Matt Roebuck, HITSS Recruitment Coordinator. "To move the science forward, we are launching a nationwide campaign, featuring several familiar faces from soccer and tackle football, to enroll thousands of people who played organized soccer or tackle football at any point in their lives."

The HITSS recruitment campaign will feature several prominent former professional soccer and tackle football players who have volunteered to be HITSS Ambassadors. These Ambassadors, listed at, have shared videos, quotes and/or their social media platforms to help encourage people to enroll in HITSS.

To enroll in HITSS, or for more information on the research project, visit Individuals currently aged 40 or older, who played soccer or tackle football at any level of play (youth, high school, college, semi-pro, or elite/professional) are eligible to enroll.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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