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Chances of developing Alzheimer’s in old age are three times higher among boxers and football players, according to a Boston University study. The scientists analyzed 75 brains of people, donated after their death. 89% played football in their youth; others, boxers and army veterans. They found, thanks to MRIs, that those who practiced boxing in their youth had lesions in the white matter of the brain.These types of injuries are common in those who perform contact sports: they are called white matter hyperintensities.

All the results were published in the journal Neurology. Expert analysis on the risk of boxers and football players Michael Alosco, a clinical neuropsychologist at Boston University School of Medicine, led the research. “Our results are exciting,” Alosco said, “because they show that white matter hyperintensities could capture long-term brain damage in people who have a history of repetitive head impacts.”

What did the researchers find? Brain scans revealed the following:

For every unit difference in white matter hyperintensity volume, the odds of having severe small vessel disease and other indicators of brain white matter damage increased twice.The greater the number of years in the sport, the risk is three times higher to accumulate tau protein in the frontal lobe. This development is a biomarker for progressive brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. “There are key limitations to the study and we need more research,” acknowledges Dr. Alosco, “to determine the unique risk factors and causes of these brain injuries in people with a history of repetitive head impacts.”

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This story was originally published December 2, 2021 4:20 PM.


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