No link between playing position or retirement age and CTE in ex-American football or ice hockey players

25 February 2021

Scientists in Canada could find no link between ice hockey and American footballers’ playing position and development of CTE. The publication Neurology reports the results today (Wednesday 24 February).

What is chronic traumatic encephalopathy?

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a form of dementia linked to repetitive blows to the head.

An American pathologist, called Harrison Martland, first described it when he noticed a combination of movement and thinking problems in former boxers which he originally dubbed “punch drunk” syndrome.

The condition has now been linked to other sports that involve head injury, most notably American football.

What did the scientists look at?

The team looked at post-mortem brains of 35 former football or hockey players. They also recorded the position played, and the age at retirement of the players.

What did the researchers find?

Nearly half of players (48%) had signs of CTE in the brain.

There was no link found between position played and CTE presence. There was also no association between age of retirement and CTE.

What our expert said:

Dr Susan Kohlhaas, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“The link between head injury and dementia is an important growing area of research and we know one specific type of dementia – chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – is directly caused by head injuries.

“While this was a small sample, and not designed to be representative of all players, the high rates of CTE are concerning. Those who experienced symptoms may have been more motivated to donate their brains for research, however this does not change the fact that very high levels of disease were found in this group.

“We still need to see further research in this area. Sadly, funding for dementia research has lagged behind other serious conditions for many years, and this is something that Alzheimer’s Research UK has been working hard to change. There is a clear appetite among the public to improve their brain health and reduce people’s risk of dementia. To find out how to look after your brain visit


Neurology: Association of Position Played and Career Duration and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy at Autopsy in Elite Football and Hockey Players.