Reversing brain damage in former NFL players: Implications for TBI and substance abuse rehabilitation.


Objective: Brain injuries are common in professional American football players, and their incidence has been associated with mild cognitive impairment, dementia, substance abuse and depression. Finding effective brain rehabilitation strategies is essential to helping retired players live more effective lives. In addition, if brain injury rehabilitation strategies can be found, it potentially has widespread implications for the traumatic brain injury and substance abuse communities whose patient also experience long standing brain damage.

Design: Open label, “pragmatic,” clinical intervention Subjects: 30 retired NFL players, a subset of a larger group of 100 players in a brain imaging and neuropsychological testing study Interventions: An open-label, pragmatic, clinical intervention study, which included weight loss (if appropriate); fish oil (5.6 grams a day); a high-potency multiple vitamin; and a formulated brain enhancement supplement that included nutrients to enhance blood flow (ginkgo and vinpocetine), acetylcholine (acetyl-l-carnitine and huperzine A), and antioxidant activity (alpha-lipoic acid and n-acetyl-cysteine). The trial average was 6 months. Outcome Measures: Microcog Assessment of Cognitive Functioning and brain SPECT imaging.

Results: In the retest situation, corrected for practice effect, there were statistically significant increases in scores of attention, memory, reasoning, information processing speed and accuracy on the Microcog. The brain SPECT scans, as a group, showed increased brain perfusion, especially in the prefrontal cortex, parietal lobes, occipital lobes, anterior cingulate gyrus and cerebellum.

Conclusion(s): This study demonstrates that cognitive and cerebral blood flow improvements are possible in this group with multiple interventions. Randomized, placebo-controlled studies evaluating the individual interventions are warranted in this population.

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