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Concussion, Playing Experience, and Long-Term Health

September 5, 2019

One of our Study’s priorities is to better understand the health impacts of concussion. Another is to identify how particular NFL playing experiences affect health outcomes. The findings below shed light on both of these topics, showing how concussions, NFL career length, and playing position may impact your long-term cognitive and mental health. You will also find some action steps and resources to help you be proactive about these aspects of your health.

What the Science Says

Our analysis of 3,500 former NFL players looked at individuals’ current cognitive and mental health alongside the specific exposures they encountered during their NFL careers, using the health and playing data that former players reported on themselves in our First Health and Wellness questionnaire (Q1). Here’s what we found:

1In this study, cognitive impairment was defined as frequent and regular problems with memory, concentration, and attention, as well as difficulty processing and understanding basic information.

2This group includes all special teams’ positions except for kickers and punters. Kickers and punters were assessed as a separate group, alongside quarterbacks.

This is the first large-scale study to quantify the specific risks associated with NFL career length and playing position, and an important step in beginning to understand how playing exposures may impact health. However, more research is needed on this topic before any definitive conclusions can be drawn. Additionally, it is important to understand that there are a number of different variables that affect cognitive health, and that many individuals who had the playing exposures outlined above will not experience cognitive impairment or poor mental health. As the graph below illustrates, even among those players who experienced the highest levels of exposure (i.e., individuals who played for seven seasons or more in high-risk positions), the percentage of men who reported cognitive impairment did not exceed 16%.


Potential Action Steps

Although you cannot change your NFL playing experience, there are things you can do to be proactive about your cognitive and mental health now:


If you have questions about the information above or would like to learn more about the Study, please call us (617.432.5000) or email us.

Read the paper: Exposure to American Football and Neuropsychiatric Health in Former National Football League Players