Medical study suggests little evidence that former athletes suffer neurological disease

BY Zachary Treu  January 28, 2014 at 3:11 PM EST

Football head injury

A medical study is questioning the existence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in former football players and other athletes. Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

A study published this month in “Current Sports Medicine Reports” attempts to turn the current narrative about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) on its head.

“Is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy a Real Disease?”, written by Christopher Randolph, Ph.D., of the Loyola University Medical Center, argues that little evidence exists to support the claim that a great number of former athletes suffer from dementia or other neurological disorders:

“Although to date there has not been a single controlled epidemiological study done to quantify this risk for any sport, this has done little to dampen speculation, and ‘chronic traumatic encephalopathy’ (CTE) has entered the American lexicon within the last few years as an established disease entity, despite the fact that there are still no established clinical or pathological criteria for this disorder.”

The article reviews the history of the study of CTE, which was first described in the 1960s, but only fully entered the public consciousness in the last several years. Randolph writes that “the list of symptoms … associated with CTE is so broad as to be essentially meaningless,” and says that previous studies found little difference in disease rates between athletes and non-athletes.

Other research results, such as a study that showed higher rates of diseases like Alzheimer’s in retired NFL players, may be skewed by the generally lower mortality rates in the subjects, according to Loyola University Medical Center.

“Until carefully controlled epidemiological and prospective clinical-pathological studies are done in this area, it is premature to suggest that these retired athletes are at risk for any type of neurodegenerative disease,” Randolph writes.

Randolph coauthored a study in 2005 that found cognitive impairment in former football players, but he dismisses the results as “subject to ascertainment bias” and notes that there were no controls.

Read the full text of the new study.

H/T Zachary Treu