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Memory Care, Assisted Living Designed for Ex-NFL Players

21 Jul, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
With Groundbreaking on First Facility, League Makes Visible Steps Toward Caring for its own

It just might be the most definitive acknowledgement yet of the link between a career in professional football and cognitive problems later in life.

According to the Jacksonville Business Journal, a local developer in Florida is partnering with the NFL Alumni Association to develop specialized assisted living and memory care facilities for former players.

Validus Senior Living, based in Tampa, confirmed it will build 33 of the centers throughout the U.S., in areas with high concentrations of retired NFL players, over the next five years. The deal represents about $1.1 billion in development costs.

"The strategic alliance focuses on providing a better lifestyle for retired NFL players who need assisted living and memory care services," Joe Pisarcik, President and CEO of the NFLAA told reporters from Virtual Strategy Magazine.

The first community opens outside of Orlando in 2016, where a number of retired players live, officials said. The goal is to have the facilities in all major NFL cities.  The premium care communities will offer swimming pools, dog parks, boardwalks, tiki huts, exclusive technology, and putting greens, as well as fine dining. The facilities are open to the community and not exclusive to NFL players.

Validus Senior Living, according to the Jacksonville paper, is an affiliate of Validus Group, which is also based in Tampa. Assisted living and memory care centers are private-pay facilities, meaning they do not rely on Medicaid or Medicare reimbursements. The cost of living in one of the facilities starts is usually several thousand dollars per month.

CoStar Group noted that according to data released last year by the NFL and the NFL Players Association as part of a lawsuit by former player, nearly 30% of NFL players will develop Alzheimer's disease or some other dementia-related brain condition, twice as high as the general population.

An article in the Orlando Sentinel noted that the NFL Players Association currently has a relationship with the Alzheimer's Association and has set up a special help-line number, 877-385-4535, for players to access anytime. Alzheimer's Association's help line for the community is 800-272-3900.

"We learned early on that the players and their families really needed more information on how to deal with memory decline," said Julie Shatzer, director of programs for the Central and North Florida Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association.

According to the Alzheimer's association, five million people in the United States need long-term care today.  That number is expected to explode to 15-22 million by 2020.

Officials say the designated facilities can provide athletes with the chance to bond with other athletes.

"As people become more forgetful, they tend to move back to their past, so having a shared relationship for them and to be able to talk about that shared and very unique experience will benefit them all," Shatzer said.

NFL and thousands of former players reached a settlement recently that provides up to $5 million per player for serious injuries because of head trauma.

The NFL seems to be on a trend of not just treating those who were affected in the past, but doing more to prevent repeated head trauma. In early 2015, the NFL announced its first chief health and medical adviser, Dr. Elizabeth Nabel of Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Other initiatives followed, including what USA TODAY called the "eye in the sky" — a certified trainer sitting in a stadium box who could alert on-field officials about players who display concussion-like symptoms.

However, the newspaper noted, football is an inherently violent sport. Injuries will continue to be part of the game. Given perhaps an impossible task of making a contact sport safe, Nabel has stated that she simply wants to make advancements.

"I think all of us would agree that we've got a long way to go," Nabel said. "This is going to be a long, hard journey."

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