Retired NFL Players and Dementia: Brain Trauma Hits Hard After Football Career

The statistics are scary. One in three retired football players will suffer some cognitive impairment, and many end up suffering a serious degree of dementia, making life after football especially challenging, and some have faced such extreme difficulties they've decided to end their lives.

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A career in the NFL can be very lucrative for some, but is it worth the fame, glory and fortune, if it steals your future?

Here is a look at what happened to just four NFL players after they retired from football.

Ted Johnson

Ted Johnson was a linebacker for the New England Patriots for ten seasons in the NFL, from 1995 to 2004. He is a three-time Super Bowl champion and is celebrating his 39th birthday today, December 4, 2011. Johnson made 239 tackles in his career.

The former Patriots star has said he easily suffered close to 100 concussions while he played for the Patriots, and said not long ago that h is "postconcussion syndrome was so severe that he was spending 20 days a month in bed and was up and around the other 10 days only until he ran out of pills."

Johnson said his struggles after football unraveled his career, marriage, his health and his reputation. He had such severe depression he couldn't get out of bed most days, and it's likely due to his countless head injuries. At just 34 years old, Johnson was already showing the minor cognitive impairment that is characteristic of early Alzheimer's disease.

At last check, he was doing better and teaching at Suffolk University, sharing life lessons with students, and hoping they don't follow the same path.

Dwight Harrison

Dwight Harrison was a defensive back who retired in 1980 after 11 years in the NFL. He has severe postconcussion syndrome, including severe depression, and was said to be living in a trailer in Texas without running water. His NFL pension had been cut off, and in August of this year, he was one of the plaintiffs in a concussion lawsuit against the NFL.

Ricardo McDonald

Ricardo McDonald is a 42-year-old who was a linebacker with the Chicago Bears and the Cincinnati Bengals and retired in 1999 after spending eight years in the NFL. He said he suffered at least 20 concussions, and played one game the same week his physician said his brain was 60 percent swollen and he suffered another concussion on top of that.

After an MRI McDonald was told his brain was like that of an 80 year old. He suffers from memory loss and headaches.

Dave Duerson

One of the most tragic cases, is that of Dave Duerson, a two-time Super Bowl champion. The 50-year-old was a safety in the NFL for 11 years and suffered from the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a debilitating brain injury. Duerson committed suicide early this year and left a note that read , " PLEASE, SEE THAT MY BRAIN IS GIVEN TO THE NFL'S BRAIN BANK."

He had hoped that researchers would be able to study his brain and find a way to prevent these types of injuries in the future.

Changes made recently in the NFL will hopefully improve the situation for players, they now require players who exhibit signs of a concussion to sit out for the rest of the game, or practice, until they can be analyzed by a neurologist. Though we hate to see our players out of the game, the alternative is far worse.

K.C. Dermody has been an avid runner, hiker, and yoga enthusiast for twenty years, and as a trained yoga instructor she taught a variety of students from senior citizens to competitive athletes. She enjoys combining her passion for sports, emotional and physical well-being with her love of writing, and has been an Oakland Raiders' fan her entire life.

More from this contributor:

Three of the most common NFL injuries

Yoga not just for girls: NFL players benefit from yoga

One of the most common injuries in the NFL: Concussions

Oakland Raiders' Jason Campbell Breaks Collarbone- A Look at the Injury in the NFL

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Updated Sunday, Dec 4, 2011