(NBC News) The NFL Players Association is teaming up with doctors in an attempt to find early signs of brain disease in former players.
Hall of Famer Joe DeLamielleure is one of several players recently diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE.
The diagnosis came after he began suffering depression, trouble sleeping and a shortened attention span.
Experts say all of those symptoms are directly related to recurrent blows to the head while playing football.
"We hit so much it was ridiculous," DeLamielleure says.
Now doctors across the country will lead the fight proactively.
The NFL Players Association is funding a program with top brain experts from The Cleveland Clinic, Tulane University and the University of North Carolina.
Retired NFL players will be able to undergo confidential, detailed neurological exams and tests of their cognitive and motor functioning.
"We're trying to establish a baseline level of neurological function, and then over time, what's changing, if something's changing, is that a yellow or red flag, and do we need to intervene?" explains Dr. Jay Alberts of the Cleveland Clinic Concussion Center.
Diet and behavioral counseling are also being offered.
The goal is to relieve symptoms and slow cognitive decline associated with CTE.
The NFL Players Association program will be confidential; information about specific players will not be shared.