There is finally a concrete connection between US soldiers and American football players, the latter of whom never miss a chance to use war analogies and hyperbole during pre and post game interviews. Two separate studies have shown that minor head traumas — which soldiers might receive from explosions on the battlefield or football players commonly receive on the gridiron after taking or making hits — raise the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia related issues.
The studies, reported Monday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in France, challenge the current view that only moderate or severe brain injuries predispose people to dementia.
NFL players have known for a few years now that there is an increased link between their sport and concussions, but now there are more studies that are coming closer to conclusively linking head trauma and dementia related dis-eases.
According to Dr. David Cifu, national director of physical medicine and rehabilitation for the Veterans Health Administration, who is quoted in the Washington Post: “What the people who have had a head injury and read this should do is to exercise and eat right … reduce risk factors that are modifiable.”
Modifiable is an euphemism for “don’t stop the wars or American football, just try to play a little nicer.” Of course Dr. Cifu didn’t say this, and not to make light of the devastating effects of war, but if doctors won’t name the problem in more emphatic ways — which in this case is brain trauma to the developing minds of youth football players and adolescent soldiers — then parents and children will not be able to make informed decisions about the risk/reward of engaging in football or the military.
Both football and soldiers have mythological narratives that help form American masculinity and trump personal well-being, so it will always be very difficult to convince youngsters avoid sacrificing short-term and highly praised reward in favor of living a longer more fruitful lifestyle, albeit a less exciting lifestyle relative to adrenaline laced world of football and/or war.
Irresponsible statements from the Alzheimer’s Association’s scientific director William Thies, who claims that football players and boxers “are almost a different species from us” in terms of the repeated blows they take to the head, confuse and downplay the groundbreaking research from inside his lab.
Luckily researchers at the Veterans Administration in San Francisco — who maybe have a little more compassion for their case studies since they are caring for men and women for whom little monetary reward is offered to soften the reality of possible long-term injuries — understood the magnitude and importance of the study by issuing their release with stricter warnings.
“Even a concussion or a mild brain injury can put you at risk,” said Laurie Ryan, a neuropsychiatrist who used to work at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and now oversees Alzheimer’s grants at the U.S. National Institute on Aging.
Even though there is not enough data to definitively answer the question “[D]o NFL players have a higher risk of dementia later in life than non-NFL players,” results of the second study found that traumatic brain injury among older veterans was associated with a nearly threefold increased risk of dementia.