Evaluation of Executive Function and Mental Health in Retired Contact Sport Athletes

J Head Trauma Rehabil. 2018 Sep/Oct;33(5):E9-E15. doi: 10.1097/HTR.0000000000000423.


Objective: To compare retired professional contact sport athletes with age-matched noncontact sport athletes on measures of executive function and mental health.

Setting: The University Concussion Management Clinic.

Participants: Twenty-one retired National Football League (NFL) and National Hockey League (NHL) players (mean age 56 years) and 21 age-matched noncontact sport athlete controls.

Designs: Case control.

Main measure: The self- and informant-reported Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function-Adult form (BRIEF-A); Wisconsin Card Sorting Test; Delis-Kaplan Executive Function System; Trail Making Part A and B; Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale; Neuropsychological Assessment Battery; List Learning; Controlled Oral Word Association Test; Beck Depression Inventory; Beck Anxiety Inventory; and Personality Inventory of the DSM-5.

Results: Former NFL and NHL players perceived themselves to have some impairment in 2 of the 9 domains of executive function on the BRIEF-A; however, their informants reported no difference when compared with informants of noncontact athletes. No significant differences were found when comparing contact sport athletes with noncontact athletes on objective neuropsychological testing. Contact sport athletes qualified as clinically anxious and had more "unusual beliefs and experiences," although they remained within with age-based norms.

Conclusion: Participation in contact sports at the professional level may not lead to later-life executive dysfunction, as the popular media and some research currently suggest.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / diagnosis
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Athletes* / psychology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Executive Function*
  • Football*
  • Hockey*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests*
  • Personality Inventory
  • Retirement