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Jim McMahon Discusses Dementia, the NFL and What He'd Have Done Differently

Jim McMahon
Courtesy BoostMobile Flickr

Former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon said that given a do-over, he'd have chosen to play baseball. At just 53, McMahon has early-stage dementia, most likely caused by the myriad head injuries he suffered during his football years.

"When my friends call and leave me a message ... I'll read it and delete it before I respond and then I forget who called and left me a message," said McMahon in an interview with Chicago TV station WFLD-TV Wednesday. He's now among the more than 2,400 retired football players suing the NFL for concussion-related dementia and brain trauma.

But McMahon still has good things to say about his 14-year stint in the NFL - a career that included bruised ribs and broken records. In the Bears' 1985 Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots, McMahon became the first quarterback in Super Bowl history to rush for two touchdowns. He was also famously quirky, appearing in the Bears' " Super Bowl Shuffle" rap as "the punky QB known as McMahon" and mooning journalists when asked about a buttocks injury.

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"Football paid for everything, it still does," said McMahon. "That Super Bowl XX team is still as popular as it ever was. Until they win again, we're gonna still make money." But McMahon claims baseball was his first love.

Had I had a scholarship to play baseball, I probably would have played just baseball," he said.

McMahon suffered four concussions while in the NFL, though no one took these very seriously at the time, he said. Team doctors would ask "basic questions, 'Where are you, what day is it?' Stuff like that. And if you were able to answer that and seem like you were OK, they would let you back in."

We know now that traumatic brain injury is a risk factor for mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease. At an Alzheimer's issues conference I attended last spring, someone asked neuroscientist and Alzheimer's researcher  G. William Rebeck how strong the evidence supporting this brain injury and dementia link actually was. His response: "I just had a son, and there's no way he's playing football."

Thursday Quick Hits:

Southern seniors take more antibiotics. A new study shows 21 percent of Southerners over 65 used an antibiotic during each quarter last year, compared to 17 percent of those in the West and 19 percent of Midwesterners. Researchers worry Southern doctors may be overprescribing antibiotics, as there was no regional difference in disease prevalence.

Rapidly aging America won't end with boomers. A new congressionally mandated report notes that the aging of the American population will continue long after the wave of elderly boomers peaks. The ratio of adults 65-plus to those aged 20 to 64 will increase 80 percent in the next several decades, because of increasing longevity and declining birth rates.

Food and family mark new memoir. In All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother's Dementia, With Refreshments, writer Alex Witchel attempts to cope with her mother's illness by cooking the foods she had grown up with. "It makes me feel better to make my house smell like my mother's house," says Witchel in an interview with the Huffington Post. "It makes me feel like everything doesn't necessarily have to disappear, that there are still parts of my mother that are still here."

Photo: Ronald C. Modra/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images


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