From Medical Xpress:

Former National Football League (NFL) players who started playing tackle football before the age of 12 were found to have a higher risk of altered brain development compared to those who started playing at a later age. The study is the first to demonstrate a link between early exposure to repetitive head impacts and later life structural brain changes.

Led by researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), the study appears online in the Journal of Neurotrauma.

The researchers examined 40 former NFL players between the ages of 40-65 who had more than 12 years of organized football participation, with at least two years at the NFL level. Half of the players participated in tackle football before the age of 12 and half began at age 12 or later. The number of concussions sustained was similar between the two groups. All of these players experienced at least six months of memory and thinking problems.

“To examine development in these players, we used an advanced technique called diffusor tensor imaging (DTI), a type of magnetic resonance imaging that specifically looks at the movement of water molecules along white matter tracts, which are the super-highways within the brain for relaying commands and information,” explained study co-author, Inga Koerte, MD, professor of neurobiological research at the University of Munich and visiting professor at BWH, Harvard Medical School.

The results showed that the research participants who started playing football before age 12 were more likely…

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