By: Dana Hathaway
Public Relations Manager
In a new Boston University (BU) study on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), researchers examined the brains of 152 young athletes and found that over 40% of them had CTE. Many associate the degenerative brain disease with high-level high-contact sports, but most of the participants in this study were amateur athletes, providing insight into the frequency and severity of CTE.
Repeated head injuries — most common in sports such as soccer, hockey, football, and rugby — cause CTE. CTE can only be diagnosed posthumously, and often manifests in the form of behavioral changes, cognitive deterioration, and even early-onset dementia. It’s often viewed as concussion symptoms during the athlete’s lifetime, but after death the brain appears shriveled and takes on a yellow hue.
Research into CTE and traumatic brain injuries is a relatively new area of study. This specific study aims to understand the impact of successive blows on younger athletes. All of the participants in this study were under 30. Dr. Ann McKee, the director of BU’s CTE Center, explained, “These [were] generally quite healthy young people, so it allows us to see the very earliest pathology of CTE in the brains of otherwise normal individuals. It gives us insight into what cells in the brain are first affected, where the first changes are.” Boston News notes their goal is to “eventually be able to identify CTE in living patients and develop therapies for the disease.”
Of the 63 athletes diagnosed with CTE, four were soccer players, six were ice hockey players, and a whopping 48 were football players. Only 12 of these football players played professionally. One of these players was former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez, who hanged himself in prison. He was serving time for murdering two men in a drive-by shooting, and was previously convicted for killing semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd. McKee noted, “we can say collectively, in our collective experience, individuals with CTE — and CTE of this severity — have difficulty with impulse control, decision-making, inhibition of impulses or aggression, often emotional volatility and rage behaviors.” Researchers point to this information as support for further research into CTE.
After Hernandez’s death and the discovery of his CTE diagnosis, his attorneys filed a 20 million dollar lawsuit against the NFL and the football helmet maker, Riddell. They accused both parties of failing to warn Hernandez of the damage football could do. A federal judge dismissed the case, which would have awarded damages to Hernandez’s daughter.
Hernandez is just one athlete out of the 63 identified — each who had their life impacted by the degenerative brain disease. Researchers continue to look into the effects and symptoms of CTE alongside other brain issues caused by repeated head trauma.
(Sources: The Boston, Boston University, ESPN)