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Multiple Concussions May Lead to Degenerative Dementia

Oct 18, 2014 - Articles by

Benching professional athletes for concussions has become top news in the media recently. In the past, taking a hit on the head or being knocked out was just part of the game. However, when athletes began to show signs of dementia, it became increasingly apparent that repetitive blows to the brain may be causing permanent damage. Now, sports medicine professionals are calling for changes in game culture, safety equipment and treatment procedures. In addition to athletes of all ages being susceptible to dementia from multiple concussions, others are at risk, too. Those who have been in multiple car accidents, who have epilepsy or who have suffered from domestic abuse are also at risk of developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Defining the Disease

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was originally referred to as dementia pugilistica or “punch drunk” since the disorder was first recognized in boxers. In 2008 the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTSE) was created as a joint venture between Boston University School of medicine and Sports legacy Institute (SLI) to learn more about CTE and how to prevent it. At present, researchers have found the primary marker for CTE is Tau protein deposits disrupting brain function. However, the only way to diagnose CTE is to conduct a brain autopsy after death; there are no markers or tests to detect CTE in the living. Therefore, it is difficult to draw conclusions about the prevalence of the disease. What is known is that CTE is a degenerative brain disease that results in behaviors similar to Alzheimer’s, including:

  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Difficulty concentrating and memory problems
  • Dizziness and headaches
  • Impeded speech and tremors
  • Slowed movements and staggered gait

Diagnosing and Treating CTE

Fortunately, CTE is not caused by genetic factors like Alzheimer’s. Rather, CTE is the result of repeated brain trauma making the disease ultimately preventable. Medical experts recommend taking precautions, if possible, against concussions. For athletes of all ages, it is recommended to avoid full-contact sports practice sessions and to wear helmets with new technology that reduce the force of impact on brains. And if a concussion occurs, do not return to normal activity until symptom-free at rest and at full motion. If an individual has suffered a concussion because of an accident, domestic abuse or sports injury, it is important to seek evaluation and treatment promptly from medical professionals trained to handle CTE. Primary care physicians who do not specialize in sports medicine might not be aware of how to correctly diagnose a concussion, utilize the new diagnostic tools or apply current treatment protocols and may actually endanger patients’ recovery.