December 4, 2012 — A new study published in the scientific journal Brain has linked repeated traumatic brain injuries to an increased risk of long-term cognitive impairment. The study involved 85 people who donated their brains to research, including 33 brains from NFL athletes. The NFL is currently facing a massive lawsuit from thousands of former players who allege that the NFL hid information linking football-related head trauma to permanent brain injuries.
Of the 85 brains in the study, 80% (68 subjects) showed evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative, incurable disease similar to Alzheimer’s that can cause memory loss, depression, and dementia. All of the subjects were males between 17 and 98 years old, including 64 athletes, 21 military veterans (of whom 86% were also athletes), and one subject the engaged in self-injurious head-banging behavior. The researchers compared their brains to 18 subjects without a history of repetitive mild traumatic brain injuries.
The researchers found evidence of CTE in 50 football players. CTE was also found in hockey players, boxers, wrestlers, and military veterans exposed to IED explosions. Unfortunately, researchers cannot diagnose CTE in people who are still alive, and not all athletes develop the disease. The study suggests that CTE is brought on by many years of mild traumatic brain injuries, but not a concussion or two.
Even so, with increasing evidence linking contact sports to brain injuries, many football programs have taken steps to reduce the number of hits to the head. The NFL has banned helmet-on-helmet hits. Many youth football programs are also taking steps to limit concussions and head injuries.
Progressive symptoms of CTE may include:
- Loss of attention and concentration
- Short-term memory loss
- Cognitive impairment
- Word-finding difficulty
- And more
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