Ex-NFL Players Put ‘Trust’ in Cleveland Clinic

Retired players to get help for neurological problems

NFL player on field

The long-term effects of sport-related collisions and brain trauma are a growing concern, particularly for retired pro football players.

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The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) and Cleveland Clinic are teaming up to do something about it. The institutions have established a program called The Trust to assess and improve the brain health and overall well-being of former players.

Cleveland Clinic will host players at three sites: its Main Campus in Cleveland, Cleveland Clinic Florida and the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas. Players may also choose Tulane University and University of North Carolina for assessment and treatment.

Ex-NFL players at increased risk for neurological disease

“Athletic injuries and sports-related brain trauma have become part of the public consciousness and are viewed as legitimate public health problems,” says Jay Alberts, PhD, director of the Cleveland Clinic Concussion Center.

“Former NFL players in particular are at increased risk for neurological disease. The goal of this program is to identify potential problems sooner — physical, neurological or cognitive — which may lead to earlier intervention,” says Dr. Alberts.

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How The Trust program will work

First, The Trust program performs comprehensive physical and neurological evaluations on former players that will include injury history, functional symptoms and personal concerns.

Following these evaluations specialists will work with players to:

  • Restore function
  • Improve cognitive and life skills
  • Slow neurodegeneration for players who’ve sustained recurrent head trauma

Players to carry a ‘neurological passport’

After their visits to Cleveland Clinic facilities, players receive personalized long-term and short-term treatments tailored to their specific needs. And they’ll be in ongoing communication with their healthcare teams.

“If problems come up, we can bring them in or recommend they follow up with their primary care physician,” says Dr. Alberts. “Each player will leave here with their own neurological passport that outlines exactly where they are cognitively and neurologically. If changes occur after they go home, we can intervene in a systematic and strategic way.”

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Cumulative effect of collisions can be devastating

“The cumulative effect of repeated collisions and brain trauma are now recognized as major factors in declining health – both mental and physical – among retired athletes who participated in contact sports,” says Charles Bernick, MD, associate medical director at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.

These injuries can have lifelong ramifications, says Dr. Bernick, including:

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Decreased motor functioning
  • Incessant pain
  • Psychological/behavioral issues, such as irritability, impaired insight and impulse control, paranoia, violent outbursts and even suicide

“By taking a proactive approach, this program is helping retired players be assessed, diagnosed and treated before symptoms arise,” says Dr. Bernick.

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