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A dominance analysis of subjective cognitive complaint comorbidities in former professional football players with and without mild cognitive impairment

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 August 2022

Benjamin L. Brett*
Department of Neurosurgery, Medical College of Wisconsin, Wauwatosa, WI, USA
Zachary Yukio Kerr
Department of Exercise and Sport Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, USA
Avinash Chandran
Department of Exercise and Sport Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, USA Datalys Center for Sports Injury Research and Prevention, Indianapolis, IN, USA
Samuel Walton
Department of Exercise and Sport Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, USA
Neelum T. Aggarwal
Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, Chicago, IL, USA
Katherine Gifford
Department of Neurology, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN, USA
Rebekah Mannix
Boston Children’s Hospital, Boston, MA, USA Department of Pediatrics and Emergency Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA
J. D. DeFreese
Datalys Center for Sports Injury Research and Prevention, Indianapolis, IN, USA
Ruben J. Echemendia
Psychological and Neurobehavioral Associates, Inc., State College, PA, USA
Kevin M. Guskiewicz
Department of Exercise and Sport Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, USA
William P. Meehan III
Boston Children’s Hospital, Boston, MA, USA Department of Orthopedics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA
Michael A. McCrea
Department of Neurosurgery, Medical College of Wisconsin, Wauwatosa, WI, USA
*Corresponding author: Benjamin L. Brett, email:



Subjective cognitive difficulties (SCDs) are associated with factors commonly reported in older adults and former contact sport athletes, regardless of objective cognitive decline. We investigated the relative contribution of these factors to SCD in former National Football League (NFL)-players with and without a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI).


Former NFL players (n = 907) aged ≥ 50 years (mean = 64.7 ± 8.9), with (n = 165) and without (n = 742) a diagnosis of MCI completed health questionnaires. Multivariable regression and dominance analyses determined the relative importance of SCD factors on SCD: 1) depression, 2) anxiety, 3) sleep disturbance, 4) pain interference, 5) ability to participate in social roles and activities, 6) stress-related events, 7) fatigue, 8) concussion history, and 9) education. SCD outcomes included Neuro-QoL Emotional-Behavioral Dyscontrol and the PROMIS Cognitive Function. Fisher’s z-transformation compared comorbid contributing factors to SCD across MCI and non-MCI groups.


Complete dominance of anxiety was established over most comorbid factors across the MCI and non-MCI groups. Fatigue also exhibited complete dominance over most comorbid factors, though its influence in the MCI group was less robust (general dominance). Average contributions to variance accounted for by comorbid factors to ratings of SCD across MCI and non-MCI groups did not statistically differ (Z-statistics <1.96, ps>.05).


Anxiety and fatigue are the most robust factors associated with SCD in former professional football players across various combinations of clinical presentations (different combinations of comorbid factors), regardless of documented cognitive impairment. Self-reported deficits may be less reliable in detecting objective impairment in the presence of these factors, with multidimensional assessment being ideal.

Research Article
Copyright © INS. Published by Cambridge University Press, 2022

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