About two in five retired National Football League players may be suffering from traumatic brain injury (TBI), a small study suggests.

After testing ex-NFL players via advanced screening technology, more than 40 percent showed signs of TBI, according to researchers from the Florida Center for Headache and Sports Neurology.

Traumatic brain injury is a serious health problem in the United States and it contributes to a substantial number of deaths and permanent disabilities each year. It's an injury to the brain caused by trauma to the head as a result of road traffic accidents, falls, assaults, and even competitive sports.

Football has long been linked to brain injuries among players. Aside from TBI, another brain disease linked to the sport, especially among NFL players, is chronic traumatic encelopathy (CTE).

The new study adds up to the tantamount evidence on the increased risk of brain injury and damage among athletes in the football industry.

Apart from the scans, the researchers conducted cognitive and memory tests in 40 ex-NFL players who are mostly 36 years old. The majority of them retired from NFL for less than five years and played an average of seven years.

The players reported an average of 8.1 concussions throughout their careers and 31 percent reported having sub-concussive injuries, which are hits below the threshold of a diagnosed concussion.

About 43 percent or 17 of the ex-NFL players had significantly more damage to the brain's white matter than healthy adults of the same age, which is considered evidence of TBI.

In thinking skills, about half of the players had significant problems with executive function. About 45 percent had problems with memory or learning, 42 percent on concentration and attention, and 24 percent on perceptual and spatial function.

Notably, the more years the player spent playing in the NFL, the more likely he would manifest signs of TBI based on the scanning device.

"This is another piece of the puzzle that playing football places people at risk for traumatic brain injury that may cause problems later in life," said Dr. Francis Conidi from the Florida State University College of Medicine and the Florida Center for Headache and Sports Neurology.

The findings of the study were recently presented at the American Academy of Neurology meeting in Vancouver, Canada.

Photo: Alan Kotok | Flickr

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