The link between repeated concussions such as those suffered in football and serious, life threatening brain injury has been further supported by a recent study. Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine have found that the brains of deceased football players show evidence of serious brain injury. The brains, examined microscopically, show chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) which is a progressive neuro-degenerative disease caused by repeated trauma to the head. It represents a buildup of toxic protein in the brain (tau protein). Individuals who suffer from CTE have symptoms such as memory impairment, depression, erratic behavior, emotional instability and other cognitive problems. These symptoms can develop into full blown dementia.
The story of football players like former New England Patriots’ linebacker, Ted Johnson, is well known. Johnson suffered numerous hits to his head while playing football. He now exhibits signs of early stage Alzheimer’s. However, less well known is the stories of numerous football players who died under the age of 50, many from suicide, whose brains on subsequent autopsy showed clear signs of CTE. The latest victim was under the age of 18.
Repetitive head trauma can no longer be written off as “dings” that are part of the game, rather, they are concussions that can cause debilitating brain dysfunction later in life. Therefore, they must be taken seriously and the medical guidelines involving return to play and management of concussions should be followed.