Disruption of function: Neurophysiological markers of cognitive deficits in retired football players

Clin Neurophysiol. 2019 Jan;


Ruiter, K. I., Boshra, R., Doughty, M., Noseworthy, M. and Connolly, J. F..


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OBJECTIVE: Recent studies demonstrate that sports-related concussions can have negative consequences on long-term brain health. The goal of the present study was to determine whether retired Canadian Football League (CFL) athletes with a history of concussions exhibit alterations in neurocognitive functioning, along with changes in physical, social, and psychological health.

METHODS: Our study compared nineteen retired CFL athletes’ concussion histories to eighteen healthy age-matched controls with no history of concussion. Self-report inventories were used to assess depression, memory, attention, and general health. Neurophysiological markers of cognitive function were evaluated with event-related brain potentials (ERPs) as measured in two protocols: (1) A Mismatch Negativity (MMN) protocol for assessing the automatic early attentional brain mechanism; and, (2) a P300 auditory oddball task for assessing consciously controlled attention.

RESULTS: Relative to controls, CFL players exhibited: response delays and reduced amplitudes in neurophysiological responses; overall decreases in cognitive function; and poorer scores on self-reports of physical, social, and psychological health; reflecting problems in all three categories.

CONCLUSION: Our findings demonstrate that multiple concussions sustained over several years can lead to altered cognitive and psychosocial function.

SIGNIFICANCE: Neurophysiological markers of conscious and pre-conscious attention provide an objective assessment for evaluating long-term cognitive consequences of concussion.

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