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The research, conducted by Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center, provides the most powerful evidence to date that playing contact football before age 12 may cause brain changes throughout life.

“This study adds to growing research suggesting that incurring repeated head impacts through tackle football before the age of 12 can lead to a greater risk for short- and long-term neurological consequences,” said Michael Alosco, the study’s lead author, a post-doctoral fellow at Boston University School of Medicine.

The consequences include behavioral and mood impairments such as depression and apathy, the study suggests. The research was supported by a variety of sources, including the National Institutes of Health and a grant from the Concussion Legacy Foundation.

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