Nav: Home

Study examines cognitive and psychosocial function of retired professional hockey players

April 13, 2017

Researchers at Baycrest Health Sciences' Rotman Research Institute have reported the most comprehensive neuropsychological study of retired professional ice hockey players to date. They found that the alumni involved in the study, most of whom played in the NHL, were free from significant brain impairment on objective testing. Yet the players reported a high level of emotional, behavioural and cognitive challenges on questionnaires rating subjective complaints.

Cognitive and Psychosocial Function in Retired Professional Hockey Players was published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry.

The ongoing study, which began in 2010, is led by Dr. Brian Levine, neuropsychologist and senior scientist at the Rotman Research Institute and professor of Psychology and Medicine (Neurology) at the University of Toronto. It focuses on retired professional ice hockey players' cognitive and behavioural functioning in relation to their age, concussion history, and genetic risk.

"There has been a lot of attention on repeated concussions and neurodegenerative disease, particularly in post-mortem samples of ex-athletes," says Dr. Levine. "There is a need for more comprehensive assessment of mental and behavioral changes during life. This longitudinal study will allow us to track changes over time to better understand aging and brain health in retired professional athletes."

Thirty-three retired professional athletes were tested along with 18 age-matched healthy males recruited from the community as a comparison group with no history of professional contact sports. All subjects completed a lengthy battery of paper-and-pencil and computerized cognitive tests, questionnaires, and brain imaging studies.

Scott Thornton, who played in the NHL for 17 seasons and now owns and runs multiple businesses in Collingwood, Ontario, volunteered to participate after being informed about the study by the NHL Alumni Association. Thornton says he is concerned about his memory function and is wondering if it is related to concussions he sustained during his professional hockey career.

"My hope is that this longitudinal study will help all hockey players and everyone involved in the game have open and honest conversations about the impact of head traumas," says Thornton. "Hockey is a very physical sport and a shoulder or leg injury is very different from a hit to the head. After an injury, we would often get back on the ice and continue to play, but it's important for everyone involved with the game to respect the consequences of these types of decisions."

Dr. Carrie Esopenko, assistant professor at Rutgers University and former post-doctoral fellow at the Rotman Research Institute, managed the study and says that the team of researchers took a comprehensive approach, studying both people with complaints about their cognitive and psychosocial functioning and those without.

"When this study began, we spent several months setting up the right series of tests to evaluate brain health in retired ice-hockey players," says Dr. Esopenko. "This study represents one of the most comprehensive evaluations that's ever been done in this area."

While the alumni and comparison groups performed to a similar level on tests of attention and memory, there was a subtle disadvantage for the alumni on executive and intellectual functioning, with performance on these tests related to the number of concussions sustained in the alumni group.

All participants provided a blood sample for genetic analysis, with a focus on the APOE gene. The researchers found that the APOE ε4 allele, associated with increased dementia risk in previous studies, was associated with psychiatric symptoms, such as depressed mood, but not cognitive changes. Longitudinal testing is required to determine the significance of this finding.

Levine's team is now working on a series of related papers reporting extensive brain imaging data collected as part of this study. This is a longitudinal study. Players will be tested every four years and have the option to donate their brains to science posthumously for neuropathological confirmation of potential brain diseases.

The NHL Alumni Association assisted the researchers by notifying their membership about the study, but had no other role in the study. Grants from The Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation, the Ministry of Research and Innovation of Ontario, Baycrest Health Sciences, The Women Friends of Baycrest, and an Alzheimer's Society of Canada Research Program Post-Doctoral Fellowship awarded to Dr. Esopenko made this study possible.
-end-
*Study backgrounder: http://www.baycrest.org/wp-content/uploads/Baycrest-longitudinal-study-examines-the-cognitive-and-psychosocial-function-Backgrounder.pdf

About Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute

The Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences is a premier international centre for the study of human brain function. Through generous support from private donors and funding agencies, the institute is helping to illuminate the causes of cognitive decline in seniors, identify promising approaches to treatment, and lifestyle practices that will protect brain health longer in the lifespan.

About Baycrest Health Sciences

Headquartered on a 23-acre campus and fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, Baycrest Health Sciences combines a unique holistic healthcare approach for aging adults with one of the world's top brain research institutes (the Rotman Research Institute). Baycrest is home to the federally and provincially-funded Canadian Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation, a solution accelerator focused on driving innovation in the aging and brain health sector, and the developer of a free online memory assessment, Cogniciti, for Canadians 40+ who are concerned about their memory. As a hospital with exemplary standing, practitioners and researchers at Baycrest work towards revolutionizing the aging experience. Baycrest is a recognized leader in offering unique hands-on opportunities to help train the next generation of healthcare professionals.

For media inquiries:

Jonathan MacIndoe
Baycrest Health Sciences
416-785-2500 ext. 6579
jmacindoe@baycrest.org

Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf
Baycrest Health Sciences
416-785-2500 ext. 5527
alevy-ajzenkopf@baycrest.org

Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care

Related Brain Health Articles:

Alzheimer's disease study links brain health and physical activity
People at risk for Alzheimer's disease who do more moderate-intensity physical activity, but not light-intensity physical activity, are more likely to have healthy patterns of glucose metabolism in their brain, according to a new UW-Madison study.
Even moderate drinking linked to a decline in brain health, finds study
Alcohol consumption, even at moderate levels, is associated with increased risk of adverse brain outcomes and steeper decline in cognitive (mental) skills, finds a study published by The BMJ today.
Uncovering why playing a musical instrument can protect brain health
A recent Baycrest study uncovered a crucial piece into why playing a musical instrument can help older adults retain their listening skills and ward off age-related cognitive declines.
Nurse practitioners are not regularly assessing brain health and need standardized assessment tools to regularly conduct critical brain health assessments
WomenAgainstAlzheimer's and the National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women's Health are releasing survey findings showing that a significant number of nurse practitioners in women's health do not raise brain health issues with patients and need more education and tools to make brain health assessments a regular occurrence.
Weather-forecast tool adapted to evaluate brain health of oxygen-deprived newborns
UT Southwestern Medical Center pediatric researchers have harnessed an analytical tool used to predict the weather to evaluate the effectiveness of therapies to reduce brain injury in newborns who suffer oxygen deprivation during birth.
Finger prosthesis provides clues to brain health
In a collaboration between Swedish and Italian researchers, the aim was to analyze how the brain interprets information from a virtual experience of touch, created by a finger prosthesis with artificial sensation.
Traumatic brain injuries leave women prone to mental health problems
Traumatic brain injuries affect the body's stress axis differently in female and male mice, according to research presented at the Endocrine Society's 99th annual meeting, ENDO 2017, in Orlando, Fla.
Baycrest creates first Canadian Brain Health Food Guide for adults
Baycrest scientists have led the development of the first Canadian Brain Health Food Guide to help adults over 50 preserve their thinking and memory skills as they age.
Study clusters health behavior groups to broaden public health interventions
A new study led by a University of Kansas researcher has used national health statistics and identified how to cluster seven health behavior groups based on smoking status, alcohol use, physical activity, physician visits and flu vaccination are associated with mortality.
Mediterranean diet may have lasting effects on brain health
A new study shows that older people who followed a Mediterranean diet retained more brain volume over a three-year period than those who did not follow the diet as closely.

Related Brain Health Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...