Not enough is understood about the long-term relationship between brain health, concussion history, and sports.
To that end, the Michigan Alumni Brain Health Study will examine whether sports participation and concussions are associated with brain health later in life in UM athletes and non-athletes.
The pilot study, co-led by researchers from the UM School of Nursing and Michigan Medicine, will compare cognitive, mood, sleep, pain and functional outcomes in a sample of male and female athletes and non-athletes who recently attended UM at least 10 years. before.
Long-term health effects of contact and concussion sports?
Jarrett Irons, former All-Big Ten linebacker and a UM football co-captain in the mid-1990s, is the son of NFL player Gerald Irons. He said his father would not have played professional football if he had known the damage repeated blows to the head could do to his brain.
Because of his father’s experience, Irons, who lives in Detroit with his family, now serves on the board of the UM Concussion Center, advocating for concussion research and awareness. The Concussion Center and the UM Department of Athletics support the pilot study.
Research doesn’t show a one-to-one link between contact sports, head trauma and brain health, UM researchers say. It is likely that many factors influence who develops chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive brain disease thought to be related to head trauma. Existing research, particularly from professional football players, has prompted concerns, lawsuits, concussion safety protocols, and more CTE research.
“We need this research to fill in the gaps in the current evidence,” said James Eckner, UM associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation and associate director for research at the Michigan Concussion Center. “Population-based research done on former high school football athletes shows no adverse effects on brain health with age.
“In contrast, pathological CTE has been found in the majority of brains of deceased former professional football players who have donated their brains to science. This study will help us understand what is happening between these two extremes.”
Only an autopsy can definitively diagnose CTE, and Irons said his father was not a candidate after he died. The Irons family believes head trauma may have contributed to Gerald Irons’ symptoms of depression, Parkinson’s and Lewy body dementia. He died in 2021.
For most concussion sufferers, it’s easy. We are interested in how this will play out throughout life. We want to focus on high-impact sports like football, lacrosse, ice hockey, and wrestling because they’re going to have more frequent and severe concussions, and we really want to see if there’s a higher rate than expected. of long-term brain. health effects.”
Philip Veliz, co-investigator and associate research professor in the School of Nursing
Focus on UM alums
Focusing on UM graduates makes study recruitment easier and has more control over the study population. The researchers hope to begin analyzing the data by mid-2023 and plan to follow up with a larger study of personal assessments, including formal cognitive testing and brain scans of volunteers and blood biomarker levels.
The UM Athletics Department has played a key role in the project’s success by helping to promote research among former athletes. Athletics partners with the Concussion Center in a number of other areas, supporting the center’s research, providing access to student-athletes for research (when appropriate), and advising on overall strategy and mission.
The study may help clarify questions about playing contact sports
Jarrett Irons said knowing what he knows now about concussions, he still would have played youth league, high school and college football.
“I definitely would have played in college,” he said. “The game of football, my experience studying and playing football at the University of Michigan, has had a lasting positive impact on my life. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.”
However, Irons would have gotten cold feet trying to play professional football.
“With the information we know now about concussions, I wouldn’t have pursued trying to further my career by making it to the NFL,” he said.
Not even his father Gerald — who earned an MBA and a law degree while playing football — would have played 10 years in the pros, Irons said.
“As we do more of this type of research on head trauma and sports, we’ll be able to provide better information to young athletes so they can make smart, healthy decisions,” he said. .
Velizi said that this is the goal.
“(The study) will provide more information when determining whether to play at higher levels and when to return to sports after an injury,” he said. “The findings may help inform sports organizations how to intervene appropriately when these injuries occur.”
Individuals who attended or graduated from UM more than a decade ago can learn more about the study at UM Health Research.
Leave a Reply