Study: Youth Football Accelerates Brain Disease Symptoms

Playing tackle football before age 12 could lead to earlier onset of symptoms among athletes who were diagnosed with brain disease, according to a new study.

Researchers at VA Boston Healthcare System and Boston University School of Medicine found that among 211 football players who were diagnosed with the CTE after death, those who began tackle football before age 12 had an earlier onset of cognitive, behavior and mood symptoms by an average of 13 years.

"Youth exposure to repetitive head impacts in tackle football may reduce one’s resiliency to brain diseases later in life, including, but not limited to CTE," corresponding author Dr. Ann McKee, director of BU’s CTE Center, said. "It makes common sense that children, whose brains are rapidly developing, should not be hitting their heads hundreds of times per season."

Every one year younger that the individuals began to play tackle football predicted earlier onset of cognitive problems by 2.4 years and behavioral and mood problems by 2.5 years. This study, which was released on Monday, included 246 deceased football players who had donated their brains for neuropathological examination.

The study extends research from the BU CTE Center that previously linked youth tackle football with worse later-life cognitive, emotional, and behavioral disturbances in living former amateur and professional tackle football players, as well as changes in brain structures (determined by MRI scans) in former NFL players.

The study released by the CTE Center in September found an association between participation in youth tackle football before the age of 12 and impaired mood and behavior later in life. Those who played tackle football before age 12 had twice the risk of apathy or acting out and three times the risk of depression, according to the study.

Contact Us