Objective: To analyze neurodegenerative causes of death, specifically Alzheimer disease (AD), Parkinson disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), among a cohort of professional football players.
Methods: This was a cohort mortality study of 3,439 National Football League players with at least 5 pension-credited playing seasons from 1959 to 1988. Vital status was ascertained through 2007. For analysis purposes, players were placed into 2 strata based on characteristics of position played: nonspeed players (linemen) and speed players (all other positions except punter/kicker). External comparisons with the US population used standardized mortality ratios (SMRs); internal comparisons between speed and nonspeed player positions used standardized rate ratios (SRRs).
Results: Overall player mortality compared with that of the US population was reduced (SMR 0.53, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.48-0.59). Neurodegenerative mortality was increased using both underlying cause of death rate files (SMR 2.83, 95% CI 1.36-5.21) and multiple cause of death (MCOD) rate files (SMR 3.26, 95% CI 1.90-5.22). Of the neurodegenerative causes, results were elevated (using MCOD rates) for both ALS (SMR 4.31, 95% CI 1.73-8.87) and AD (SMR 3.86, 95% CI 1.55-7.95). In internal analysis (using MCOD rates), higher neurodegenerative mortality was observed among players in speed positions compared with players in nonspeed positions (SRR 3.29, 95% CI 0.92-11.7).
Conclusions: The neurodegenerative mortality of this cohort is 3 times higher than that of the general US population; that for 2 of the major neurodegenerative subcategories, AD and ALS, is 4 times higher. These results are consistent with recent studies that suggest an increased risk of neurodegenerative disease among football players.