For some time, doctors and researchers in California and around the country have suspected that there exists a link between multiple head injuries, caused by contact sports, military service or other activities, and lasting, life-changing brain damage. Now, a new study appears to confirm those suspicions.
In the study, researchers compared the autopsies of 85 brain donors who had experienced repeated head trauma during their lives, against 18 control brains. They found that a significant majority of the brain donors had evidence of a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which has been found to cause serious mental degradation and deficiency in professional athletes and others who have suffered multiple brain injuries.
Specifically, 68 of the 85 donor brains tested had extensive evidence of tau clogging brain tissue, which are protein tangles that cause a mass destruction of brain cells. Researchers say that the damage was much more severe in donors who played professional sports such as football or hockey, and who passed away after the age of 50.
CTE, which is similar to Alzheimer’s, generally progresses in four stages. First come headaches and an inability to concentrate, followed by depression, anger and aggression, and short-term memory loss. The third stage brings serious cognitive impairment, followed by full dementia. The disease often progresses for several years after the head traumas occur. Currently, there is no diagnostic test or effective method of treatment for the disease, which is why studies like this one are so important.
Hopefully, this research continues and is used to guide sports officials at all levels as they work to create policies to protect their players from this devastating illness.
Source: Boston Globe, “Boston researchers find new evidence linking repeat concussions to permanent brain injury,” Deborah Kotz, Dec. 2, 2012