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Baycrest And NHL Alumni Partner On Brain Health Study

September 11, 2017

One of the world's top neuroscience institutes has teamed up with the NHL Alumni on a study that will track the brain health of retired NHL players over several years.

Toronto's Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest has announced that it is recruiting healthy retired players to participate in a research study to identify the risk factors associated with cognitive decline and mental health changes as they age.

The announcement comes as Toronto gears up for the 6th Annual Scotiabank Pro-Am Hockey Tournament (May 5-7) which pairs retired NHL players with amateur adult teams in the community to raise funds for Alzheimer's care and research.

"Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute is one of the best in the world for studying the aging brain," said Mark Napier, executive director of the NHL Alumni.

"As former players from a high impact sport, we are very interested in contributing to research that will help illuminate the different factors that influence the aging process, particularly around brain health and the development of dementia. We are hoping that the findings from this study will have wider implications for all aging adults."

NHL alumni will undergo comprehensive cognitive testing to establish baseline mental status, lifestyle habits such as substance abuse, chronic health conditions such as diabetes, and a detailed concussion history. They will also have their brains scanned with state-of-the-art magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at Baycrest. Blood and cerebrospinal fluid samples will be collected to examine biomarkers, including genetic risk factors associated with dementia.

Family members and friends of the players will be recruited to form an age-and-education-matched comparison group that will undergo the same assessment procedure. This comparison group is crucial to isolate the brain health factors that may be specific to the NHL alumni, as opposed to those that are present in the general population. Followup cognitive testing and structural brain scanning (with MRI) will take place every three years.

"In head injury, teasing apart the contribution of genetics and other health factors to aging and brain function is a great challenge," said principal investigator Dr. Brian Levine, a senior scientist with Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute and expert in head trauma and dementia.

"By comprehensively assessing both the players and matched comparison subjects, we hope to better understand this process. This study will help us to understand the aging brain not only in professional athletes, but in the population at large."

A portion of the proceeds from next week's 6th Annual Scotiabank Pro-Am Hockey Tournament, in support of the Gordie & Colleen Howe Fund for Alzheimer's at Baycrest, will help fund the Baycrest-NHL Alumni brain health study.

Kelly Connelly
Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care