An Exploratory Study of Mild Cognitive Impairment of Retired Professional Contact Sport Athletes

J Head Trauma Rehabil. 2018 Sep/Oct;33(5):E16-E23. doi: 10.1097/HTR.0000000000000420.


Objective: To test the hypothesis that mild cognitive impairment (MCI) rates are higher among retired professional contact sport athletes than in noncontact athlete controls and compare history of contact sports with other MCI risk factors.

Setting: University Concussion Management Clinic.

Participants: Twenty-one retired National Football League and National Hockey League players and 21 aged-matched noncontact athlete controls.

Designs: Case-control.

Main measures: Comprehensive criteria were used to assess MCI based on the following: Wisconsin Card Sorting Test, Delis-Kaplan Executive Function System; Trail Making Parts A and B; Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Third Edition subtests; Neuropsychological Assessment Battery Memory Module List Learning, Story Learning, and Naming subtests; and Controlled Oral Word Association Test. The Wide Range Achievement Test was used as a proxy measure for IQ. Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease risk factors were self-reported and blood cholesterol was measured. Depression was measured by the Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI).

Results: Eight contact sport athletes (38%) and 3 noncontact athletes (14%) met MCI criteria (P = .083). Contact sport athletes' scores were significantly worse on Letter Fluency and List B Immediate Recall. Contact athletes were more obese, had more vascular risk factors, and had higher scores on the BDI than controls.

Conclusion: Athletes with a history of playing professional contact sports had more vascular risk factors and higher depression scores. MCI rates were somewhat higher, though not significant.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Athletes*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / diagnosis*
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Diabetes Mellitus / epidemiology
  • Football*
  • Hockey*
  • Humans
  • Hypercholesterolemia / epidemiology
  • Hypertension / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Retirement
  • Smoking / epidemiology