Dementia Care, Tailored to N.F.L. Retirees


The calculations showed that players younger than 50 had a 0.8 percent chance of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia, compared with less than 0.1 percent for the general population. For players ages 50 to 54, the rate was 1.4 percent, compared with less than 0.1 percent for the general population. The gap between the players and the general population grows wider with increasing age.

As important, the company also knows that the former players have access to a gold-plated benefit that few Americans have: The N.F.L.’s 88 Plan, which provides up to $130,000 a year for those with full-blown dementia, A.L.S. or Parkinson’s disease.

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Steve Benjamin, the chief executive of Validus Senior Living.

Credit
Eve Edelheit for The New York Times

“It’s a no-brainer to offer them this quality,” Steve Benjamin, the chief executive of Validus Senior Living, said during a tour of his center here. “When people beat up on the N.F.L., they don’t realize that the players get a lot of care,” he added, referring to retirees. “No one is even close to having those kinds of benefits.”

The N.F.L. Alumni Association, which relies on membership dues and contributions from the league, has formed more than a dozen alliances, most of which are focused on providing health-related services to retired players. The association recently struck a deal with LightForce, a company that, in conjunction with participating doctors, provides players with free laser treatments to relieve pain and swelling. It works with L.A. Fitness, Cancer Treatment Centers of America and LabCorp, among others.

Its partnership with Validus is more complex because the cognitive abilities of affected former players are diminished and they may not know they are being used to promote a business. Though Validus says it does not disclose players’ names without permission from their families, the logo of the Pro Football Legends, the commercial arm of the association, is on the Validus website, as is a testimonial from the partner of Ordell Braase, a former player who lives in a Validus home.

The site also includes photos and a testimonial from Sylvia Mackey, who cared for her husband, John, a former Baltimore Colt who had dementia. Her activism led the league and the players’ union to set up the 88 Plan. (Mackey wore the number 88 when he played for the Colts.)

The links between Validus, the association and, by extension, the league might suggest to potential residents that they would rub shoulders with former players if they lived in a Validus facility.

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Sylvia Mackey, the widow of John Mackey, who had dementia, spurred the N.F.L.’s 88 Plan.

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Win McNamee/Getty Images

Gay Culverhouse, the former president of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who helps retired players in need, said she would have no qualm if the alumni association recommended several assisted living facilities to its members. But she has opposed the Validus partnership because it endorsed one company over another.

She also said the alliance pushed the boundaries of good taste by using players with memory impairment to promote a business.

“You can’t use players as bait to help Validus,” she said. “Don’t put these guys on show. N.F.L. players who are demented are being exploited. They are marketing with no advantage to the players.”

Benjamin said that former players living in Validus facilities were not used in any advertising. He declined to disclose the names of the players who live in the center here, about an hour south of Tampa.

Joe Pisarcik, the president of the Alumni Association, said that he had no trouble with a player providing a testimonial, but that a player should not be used in marketing materials without his consent. In fact, Hipaa, the federal privacy law protecting health care information, forbids him from disclosing the names of players who live in Validus facilities.

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A Validus center in Bradenton, Fla.

Credit
Eve Edelheit for The New York Times

“I can’t even tell my board of directors who’s in there,” Pisarcik said.

Pisarcik and the board of directors said they were impressed by Validus and its plans to serve former N.F.L. players.

Each Validus facility will be able to accommodate about 150 residents, though Benjamin said that only 5 percent may be former players.

“But that’s still a lot of N.F.L. guys,” he said.

The key, though, is that players accepted into the 88 Plan will have little trouble paying the roughly $5,500 a month needed to stay at a Validus facility.

Benjamin said residents paid for about 90 percent of their costs out of pocket, with insurance covering the rest. By contrast, starting April 1, N.F.L. players can receive up to $130,000 a year through the 88 Plan if they live in an assisted living facility, up from $100,000 before.

“This is the best program I’ve seen relative to taking care of mom and dad,” Benjamin said.

The league introduced the 88 Plan after embarrassing revelations about how families were left caring for former players whose minds had deteriorated. Sylvia Mackey was among the most vocal in exposing how little the league did on the behalf of these families. John Mackey, who played for the Colts and the Chargers from 1963 to 1972, was found to have frontal temporal dementia in 2000, and eventually needed continual in-home care. He died in 2011.

At wits’ end, Sylvia Mackey wrote to the commissioner at the time, Paul Tagliabue, who in his last days at the helm of the league pushed for the approval of the 88 Plan, which paid players $88,000 a year when it was introduced in 2007.

The plan has since been expanded to include players with A.L.S. and Parkinson’s disease. It doesn’t cover C.T.E., the brain disease found in dozens of deceased players which has been at the center of public discussion and a legal fight between players and the N.F.L., because it can be diagnosed only posthumously, and the 88 plan is for living players.

In all, 214 retired players currently receive benefits, with those living at home receiving lower amounts than those in outside facilities. (The 88 Plan also includes a $10,000 burial expense benefit.)

Mackey continues to work on behalf of former players and their families, so Benjamin asked her to join the board of Validus. She, along with several former stars like Jack Youngblood and Ron Jaworski, attended the groundbreaking for the facility in Ocoee last year.

Mackey said the alliance with Validus was worthwhile because the players would receive extra attention, such as the specially designed beds. “When you cater to them, you make them happier,” Mackey said. “There are special needs.”

Former players also have access to services available to all residents. At the 150-bed facility here, Benjamin showed off a spacious swimming pool, Tiki bar, dog park and a lake where residents can go fishing.

To Benjamin, he is merely filling a need.

“The demographics are exploding,” he said. “The reality is I’m still taking care of people. The N.F.L. will be only one segment.”

Correction: March 22, 2016
An earlier version of a photo caption accompanying this article misspelled the surname of a Validus Senior Living center resident. He is Dutch Schultze, not Dutch Shultze.

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