Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society

Research Articles

Prevalence and Characterization of Mild Cognitive Impairment in Retired National Football League Players

Christopher Randolpha1 c1, Stella Karantzoulisa2 and Kevin Guskiewicza3a4a5

a1 Department of Neurology, Loyola University Medical Center, Maywood, Illinois

a2 Department of Neurology, New York University Langone Medical Center, New York, New York

a3 Department of Exercise and Sport Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

a4 Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

a5 Center for the Study of Retired Athletes, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina


It has been hypothesized that exposure to repetitive head trauma from contact sports over a long-playing career may eventuate in an increased risk of late-life cognitive impairment. There are currently two competing hypotheses about the possible mechanism underlying such impairment. One is the presence of a unique neurodegenerative disorder known as “chronic traumatic encephalopathy” (CTE). The other is diminished cerebral reserve leading to the earlier clinical expression of age-related neurodegenerative diseases such as mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer's disease (AD). The present study examined informant AD8 inventory data in a sample of 513 retired National Football League (NFL) players. These data were indicative of possible cognitive impairment in 35.1% of this relatively young sample. A comparison of neurocognitive profiles in a subsample of this group to a clinical sample of patients with a diagnosis of MCI due to AD revealed a highly similar profile of impairments. Overall, the data suggest that there may be an increased prevalence of late-life cognitive impairment in retired NFL players, which may reflect diminished cerebral reserve. The findings are considered preliminary, but emphasize the need for larger, controlled studies on this issue. (JINS, 2013, 19, 1–8)

(Received March 22 2013)

(Revised June 18 2013)

(Accepted June 18 2013)

(Online publication August 01 2013)


  • Concussion;
  • Football;
  • Sports;
  • CTE;
  • MCI


c1 Correspondence and reprint requests to: Christopher Randolph, 1 East Erie, Suite 353, Chicago, IL 60611. E-mail: