Recent discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in former National Football League (NFL) players has led to a surge of papers investigating cognitive functioning in these former athletes. This critical review of the literature focused on the neuropsychological functioning in these ageing athletes, and included 22 articles published between 2013 and 2019, of which 13 reported on neuroradiological imaging and four focused on dose-response relationships of repetitive head injury on cognitive outcomes. Four studies suggest higher prevalence of MCI and neurodegenerative disease among NFL retirees, although a quantifiable risk and prevalence of cognitive impairment and dementia in these players remains unknown. Decreased verbal memory has been found in some players across multiple studies, though with unknown clinical significance due to small sample sizes, unreported effect sizes, and absence of longitudinal data. Studies investigating a dose-response relationship between cognitive decline and head injury have generated mixed findings utilizing various measures of head injury exposure. Neuroradiological findings are inconsistent, but suggest that some NFL players may be at greater risk for reduced white matter integrity. Future research is needed to understand the relationship between sports-related concussions and the risk of long-term cognitive decline and neurodegenerative disease in ageing NFL players.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)71-88
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Review of Psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2020


  • National Football League
  • Neuropsychological functioning
  • dementia
  • mild cognitive impairment
  • professional football

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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