Self-Reported Cognitive Function and Mental Health Diagnoses among Former Professional American-Style Football Players

J Neurotrauma. 2020 Apr 15;37(8):1021-1028. doi: 10.1089/neu.2019.6661. Epub 2019 Dec 10.


Clinical practice strongly relies on patients' self-report. Former professional American-style football players are hesitant to seek help for mental health problems, but may be more willing to report cognitive symptoms. We sought to assess the association between cognitive symptoms and diagnosed mental health problems and quality of life among a cohort of former professional players. In a cross-sectional design, we assessed self-reported cognitive function using items from the Quality of Life in Neurological Disorders (Neuro-QOL) Item Bank. We then compared mental health diagnoses and quality of life, assessed by items from the Patient-Reported Outcome Measurement Information System (PROMIS®), between former professional players reporting daily problems in cognitive function and former players not reporting daily cognitive problems. Of the 3758 former professional players included in the analysis, 40.0% reported daily problems due to cognitive dysfunction. Former players who reported daily cognitive problems were more likely to also report depression (18.0% vs. 3.3%, odds ratio [OR] = 6.42, 95% confidence interval [CI] [4.90-8.40]) and anxiety (19.1% vs. 4.3%, OR = 5.29, 95% CI [4.14-6.75]) than those without daily cognitive problems. Further, former players reporting daily cognitive problems were more likely to report memory loss and attention deficit(/hyperactivity) disorder and poorer general mental health, lower quality of life, less satisfaction with social activities and relationships, and more emotional problems. These findings highlight the potential of an assessment of cognitive symptoms for identifying former players with mental health, social, and emotional problems.

Keywords: cognitive function; football; mental health; quality of life.

Publication types

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