Sports-related concussions, and the long-term damage they cause, have been in the news a lot lately. As the neurological damage becomes more evident as players age, the urgency for early detection and treatment becomes more profound.
For the first time, researchers at UCLA have been able to use a brain-imaging tool to identify abnormal tau proteins in the brain in five retired but still-living ex-NFL players.
CTE causes degenerative neurological disease
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, can cause memory loss, confusion, progressive dementia, depression, suicidal behavior, personality changes abnormal gait and tremors. It is caused by repetitive mild traumatic brain injuries that cause a build-up of the tau protein, a protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Early detection methods have not been developed
“Early detection of tau proteins may help us to understand what is happening sooner in the brains of these injured athletes,” said lead author Dr. Gary Small, UCLA’s Parlow-Solomon Professor on Aging and a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences.
“Our findings may also guide us in developing strategies and interventions to protect those with early symptoms, rather than try to repair damage once it becomes extensive.”
“I hope that my participation in these kinds of studies will lead to a better understanding of the consequences of repeated head injury and new standards to protect players from sports concussions,” explained Wayne Clark, a player in the study who had normal cognitive function.
The players tested included a quarterback, linebacker, guard, center and defensive lineman. Three players had mild cognitive impairment, one had dementia and another had normal cognitive function.
Ability to test and prevent CTE is key to long-term health
“It is the holy grail of CTE research to be able to identify those who are suffering from the syndrome early, while they’re still alive,” noted study author Dr. Julian Bailes, director of the Brain Injury Research Institute and the Bennett Tarkington Chairman of the department of neurosurgery at NorthShore University HealthSystem.
“Discovering the effects of prior brain trauma earlier opens up possibilities for symptom treatment and prevention.”
NFL players have a higher-than-average risk of dying from Alzheimer’s symptoms, but CTE isn’t limited to professional athletes. Military personnel, auto accident victims and amateur athletes are all at risk.
Source: MedicalNewsToday, American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry