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Xenos

NFL Players and Brain Health?

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Former Charger Nick Hardwick did an article a few weeks ago filling in for Peter King at PFT. It was a great article that I hope more can read:

https://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2019/06/10/fmia-guest-nick-hardwick-post-nfl-brain-health/

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Those roles kept me engaged, and helped me challenge myself mentally. I felt as healthy as I had ever been since my freshman year of college, the year before I walked on and made the football team at Purdue. But like my Navy SEAL friend, Pat, I still felt I had more cognitive ability left untapped, because my brain wasn’t necessarily firing on all cylinders.

Fortunately I was able to function because over the years I had hard-wired my mentality to continue to persevere through pain, discomfort, less than ideal situations and, to be honest, some states of depression I now recognize. I knew a certain amount of mental endurance was required after playing the game so long.

But I also realized toughness alone wasn’t the answer. I came to realize and accept my fate that as a former football player, I had accumulated about 25,000-plus head hits over the course of my playing career, all at least equivalent to boxing jabs, with the occasional straight punch and uppercut thrown in for good measure.

 

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A Proactive Approach

At age 37, I didn’t want whatever neurologic decline had already occurred to continue without me becoming more proactive. We’ve all been privy to the information out there about the damage football can cause to the brains and bodies of the men who traded in their health for some sweet paychecks in return. There have been some notably ugly stories and outcomes for some ex-players. To me, those are the cautionary tales we have to take to heart. You can’t just sit by and let things take their course.

My friend and former Chargers teammate, Philip Rivers, used to call it the frog in hot water. You drop a frog in hot water and he immediately jumps out. But, if you put him in a pot of cool water and slowly turn the heat up, he will hang in there and keep cooking until it’s too late and he can’t get out. It’s the slow decline and complacency that catches up to you, and you have to be wary of it.

While on a phone call one night during Super Bowl week from Atlanta with Jayme, who was back in San Diego being super mom to our two boys, (Hudson, 7; Teddy, 5), we mutually decided my emotional highs and lows were unnatural, unwanted, and unacceptable. Something beyond the current healthy lifestyle routine we had established had to be done, and soon.

That’s when I remembered my conversations with my Navy SEAL pal, Pat, and immediately googled “Brain Treatment Center San Diego.” Two short weeks later, I walked in to a nondescript medical building in downtown San Diego and took a tour of the facility, which is operated by another former Navy SEAL who is passionate about helping Special Forces Operators restore the health of their brains.

The center features an ultra-comprehensive rehabilitative/restorative program for those elite ex-soldiers, whose brains have seen and dealt with far worse scenarios than my own. Their sessions include daily stand-up paddle boarding sessions, art therapy, and, of course, the actual treatment of magnetic brain stimulation itself.

The art therapy is what most interested and attracted me. Patients are taught a simple and repeatable method to paint that could be rapidly learned, allowing them to produce beautiful oils on canvas almost immediately. Very graphically, in their painting, you could see their brains and thought processes being restored to a healthier state. If they could go from the one extreme of dark, painful, and at times horrifying art to the other extreme of light and bright, I had to see what the treatment could do for me.

 

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The Future

I’m two or three months past my last treatment, and I can honestly say my brain is in a better place than it was before. The emotional highs and lows I was living with have been stabilized. My cognition took off during that period and it hasn’t slowed down since. Overall, I’d definitely recommend the treatment to other former football players.

Eventually it would be nice if the NFL could figure out a way to have this, and other treatments associated with the brain, as part of the “checking out” phase of a player’s career. Sure, there is the league’s Brain and Body Assessment program, of which I also took part. Measuring and knowing where you stand is great. But doing something to improve your position is even more critical.

Taking charge of your situation, whatever it may be, is powerful and empowering in itself. Knowing that I didn’t quit, and will never stop seeking tools to help me repair and grow had its own positive benefits. That’s a version of the placebo effect. I’ve heard lots of research scientists say the placebo effect is roughly 30% effective in everything. I’m not labeling this a placebo treatment by any means. But I do know, when you fully commit yourself to a process, and completely believe in it and give up doubt, the outcomes of any treatment or plan has a far greater likelihood of achieving the desired outcome.

So yes, some damage to my brain was sustained. Some of it, like the arthritis in my joints and back and neck that I wake up with every day aren’t going to just miraculously vanish. But, as they say with arthritis, the minute you stop moving, the worse it gets.

I’m not sure if a former NFL player has ever lived to be 100, but that’s my goal. I may not get there of course. But every season you don’t set out to go 9-7 or to just make the playoffs. Hell no! You set out to win the Super Bowl. Every year. Living to 100 is my new Super Bowl.

And it starts with ….. Do everything in your power today to ensure a positive outcome in the future.

Here’s to your health.

 

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Posted (edited)

Here's one on Gary Plummer and his fight to counter cognitive decline.

https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/09/18/gary-plummer-nfl-concussion-dementia-therapy

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But 15 seasons of pro football had taken a toll. In the decade after his retirement, in 1998, Plummer began to notice changes. The headaches that plagued him as a player didn’t abate but instead worsened, lasting hours and sometimes days. “Like a spike being driven behind my right ear,” he says. Loud noises agitated him. So did bright lights. Eventually, he became anxious and depressed. He rarely slept more than an hour or two at a time. He couldn’t concentrate long enough to read, so he began listening to audiobooks. He relied on his wife, Corey, to remember details and manage his schedule.

When, in 2014, he finally saw a clinical psychologist for an assessment of his mental health, Plummer struggled to answer basic questions. “I felt like a f------ moron,” he says. ”The longer the test went on, the stupider I felt.” Afterward the psychologist told Plummer he suffered from major neurocognitive disorder due to repetitive traumatic brain injury. “The early stages of dementia,” says Plummer.

Theoretically, his condition should have worsened in the years since, making his story depressingly similar to so many other former players’. And yet, entering the neurologist’s office this May, Plummer felt cautiously optimistic. Confident, even. He believed his efforts were about to pay off.


 

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At the same time Plummer built up his regimen. He stuck with the yoga, encouraged when his headache disappeared for a few minutes during savasana, the final resting pose. He listened to The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and tried to embrace the concepts it espouses, including that happiness is determined by one’s state of mind, not external factors. He tailored his diet and workout schedule for brain health. After Young told him about music therapy, and how it provided stress relief, Plummer read up on it, learning how soldiers with PTSD had found succor through classical music. He listened to Mozart, Bach and the Swiss harpist Andreas Vollenweider, eventually installing Sonos speakers throughout his property. At the urging of his therapist, he says he tried to “stop competing at everything and work on just being”—but damn, was that hard. “It’s not like a light switch,” Plummer says. “I’d been a tough guy for 38 years. When you’re done playing, you don’t suddenly go back to who you were when you were seven.”

Most of all, though, Plummer gardened. After the divorce, he had taken it up out of spite, to prove he could do a better job than his ex-wife. Now he tried to enjoy the process, tending to his sprawling backyard for four or more hours a day, weeding, planting and hand-watering the blossoms of nasturtium and bougainvillea, the clumps of brilliant pencil cacti, and towers of vegetables. He felt that it helped, marginally at least. The way Plummer figured it, if he tried 20 tactics and each one helped just a little bit, well, that might add up to something larger, right?

 

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Over the course of two days, Plummer shows me the life he now leads. Here, next to his bed, is the essential oil vaporizer, redolent of lavender, which helps him sleep. (Plummer is a big proponent of essential oils.) Here, in his upstairs steam shower, the 10 pennies he moves and stacks as he does his midnight exercises—dips, squats, step-ups, side bends, 15-pound curls, shrugs, one-leg balancing—aiming for 1,000 reps in 120º heat as his waterproof stereo plays new-age music (which he has also embraced along with classical). Here’s the vape pen he began using after hearing that cannabidiol helped with depression, and, in the kitchen, the MMF Hydro powdered supplement he drinks for “improved brain cognition.” To maintain a weight of around 250 pounds he uses a SodaStream, adding a hint of juice to each glass from one of the dozen-plus fruit trees in his yard. As he tells old football stories about “motherf------” opponents and becoming a “fleshbomb” when he launched into ball-carriers, the veins on his forehead rise and his body tenses and you can feel the old intensity, like heat rising off him.

 

Edited by Xenos

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It's scary to hear about all these injuries to players especially with their brains. I know everyone likes a hard hit but when you consider the damage caused not sure liking those hard hits are in the player's best interest.

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4 hours ago, tom cody said:

It's scary to hear about all these injuries to players especially with their brains. I know everyone likes a hard hit but when you consider the damage caused not sure liking those hard hits are in the player's best interest.

They could certainly choose not to play the sport and make millions. NFL fans won't stick around if the sport becomes watered down either. Enjoying hard hits is just part of the experience that draws viewers. 

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1 hour ago, vikingsrule said:

They could certainly choose not to play the sport and make millions. NFL fans won't stick around if the sport becomes watered down either. Enjoying hard hits is just part of the experience that draws viewers. 

If it’s too watered down I won’t watch it.  It’s risk vs reward.  Make the game safer if you can, but hits by big guys, fast guys, are part of it.  I’m not interested in flag football.  I don’t like seeing people get injured, but that’s the risk you take.  

 

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2 hours ago, vikingsrule said:

They could certainly choose not to play the sport and make millions. NFL fans won't stick around if the sport becomes watered down either. Enjoying hard hits is just part of the experience that draws viewers. 

But there should be ways to make it safer especially when dealing with head trauma which has far more lasting effect than a lot of other bodily injuries. And providing neurological solutions for players afterward is also important.

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21 hours ago, vikingsrule said:

They could certainly choose not to play the sport and make millions. NFL fans won't stick around if the sport becomes watered down either. Enjoying hard hits is just part of the experience that draws viewers. 

That is true. You could say it's what you signed up for you take the risks. Seems like things are getting a little better as it relates to concussions so hope that continues. 

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I agree with other posters that have said it’s insane to deteriorate the sport in the name of safety. It’s not a safe game. People know this going into it. Don’t pretend that you don’t flag people for hard hits that are completely clean by the letter of the law. The NFL penalized big hits, regardless of how clean they are. That isn’t making the game safer; it’s making it damn near unwatchable. 

I’m glad it hasn’t gotten that bad in HS or college yet. 

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