Age Matters Clinic


Toronto Geriatric Assessment and Memory Clinic

Prolonged Exposure to Head Injuries Related to Degenerative Disease

If the result of a recent study conducted in some brains of dead athletes (, which showed that a prolonged exposure to head injuries and trauma are directly related to a certain type of degenerative disease is conclusive, then this should serve a warning to the sports community to devise measures on how to address the alarming result of the study.

A team of researchers from the Boston University, who conducted post-mortem examination to 85 brains of men between 17 and 98 years old, have found out that chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is a form of a degenerative disease is linked with repeated brain injuries trauma, was found in most subjects' brains.

With the family's consent of each subjects, the family members also described to the researchers the different level of CTE. The researchers also compared the CTE to that of other degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.

There have been several attempts to uncover the relationship between mild but repetitive head injuries with CTE but there were only few of those researches that yielded conclusive results.

As early as 2008, and even much earlier than that, a similar study has been conducted in 11 brains of dead athletes showing a conclusive result that repetitive brain injuries is linked to developing a CTE. Some studies have suggested that repetitive blows to the head area will cause significant damage to the brain that may be permanent.

Among the early symptoms of CTE include memory loss, dementia, confusion, aggression, and depression.

Some family members of those individuals who develop CTE have narrated that a sudden change in behavior is one of the earliest manifestation of CTE but they just ignore the changes supposing there's no strange about it. An abrupt change in the behavior of a person who is experiencing CTE is a typical symptom just like in other types of degenerative diseases. Neurosurgeons have noted that a sudden behavioral change in a person who is experiencing CTE can be attributed to an abnormal accumulation of protein-like substance called tau that surrounds the brain and thereby disrupting the brain's natural functioning.

"This study clearly shows that for some athletes and war fighters, there may be severe and devastating long-term consequences of repetitive brain trauma that has traditionally been considered only mild," Dr. Ann McKee, of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University, and her co-authors concluded in the journal Brain. About 33 of the 85 subjects were athletes who played in major leagues and well-known teams in the country. Unlike other types of degenerative diseases, the rate of progression of CTE is significantly slower and may take 11-14 years in between stages. Based on the researchers' analysis, CTE has four levels.

The researchers however admitted that there still a lot of works and additional researchers to be done to provide more conclusive and to further expand the knowledge about CTE and how it will help protect athletes.