American Football and CTE

Following on from our previous blog American Football may ban helmets Reuters Health report that a U.S research report into a former college football player who sustained repeated hits to the head and showed signs of brain damage after his death may offer fresh clues about how concussions impact athletes.

The gentleman concerned began playing American Football at the age of 6 and suffered his first concussion aged 8 and suffering more than 10 concussions in all.

At age 24, neurological tests found he had memory and recall problems, speech and language impairment and difficulties remembering and reproducing line drawings.

After his death, researchers examined his medical records and his donated brain and agreed he had post-concussive syndrome with possible CTE and major depression.

The 25 year old died of a cardiac arrest related to an infection in his heart, but the autopsy showed signs of brain damage consistent with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

CTE is a traumatic brain disorder at can only be diagnosed during an autopsy.  It is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions.  CTE has been known to affect boxers since the 1920’s (when it was termed punch drunk syndrome or dementia pugilistica).  In recent years the disease has been found in other athletes, including football and hockey players, as well as in military veterans.  Repeated brain trauma triggers progressive degeneration of the brain tissue, including the build-up of an abnormal protein called tau.  The brain degeneration is associated with common symptoms of CTE including memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, suicidal tendencies, parkinsons, and eventually progressive dementia. These symptoms often begin years, or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of active athletic involvement.

It is believed that other factors, such as genetics, may play a role in the development of CTE, as not everyone with a history of repeated brain trauma develops this disease, however, these other factors are not yet understood.

It is becoming more widely understood that CTE affects not only professional athletes but  that contact sports athletes at the amateur level are also at risk for the disease.

While this isn’t the first former football player to be diagnosed with CTE after years playing contact sports, this particular athlete had a series of psychological and cognitive tests before his death that offer some insight into how symptoms of CTE might develop, McKee and colleagues note in their report.

More research is needed however CTE should be considered in young athletes who have repeated head trauma as well as persistent mood and behavioral symptoms.

Such research might help us to understand progressive psychological conditions and conditions that would otherwise be considered early onset dementia and underline the importance of proper investigation into traumatic brain injury.

We regularly act for clients that have sustained traumatic head injuries and any research that helps us to anticipate any additional difficulties that they might face in later life will ensure that we can secure sufficient compensation for their future needs.

 

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