Study finds another link between sports head injuries and brain deterioration

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NY Times –  THE GROWING EVIDENCE of a link between head trauma and long-term, degenerative brain disease was amplified in an extensive study of athletes, military veterans and others who absorbed repeated hits to the head, according to new findings published in the scientific journal Brain.

The study, which included brain samples taken posthumously from 85 people who had histories of repeated mild traumatic brain injury, added to the mounting body of research revealing the possible consequences of routine hits to the head in sports like football and hockey. The possibility that such mild head trauma could result in long-term cognitive impairment has come to vex sports officials, team doctors, athletes and parents in recent years.

Of the group of 85 people, 80 per cent (68 men) — nearly all of whom played sports — showed evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., a degenerative and incurable disease whose symptoms can include memory loss, depression and dementia.

Football legend Cookie Gilchrist, who also played in the C.F.L., where he was a four-time all-star

Football legend Cookie Gilchrist, who also played in the C.F.L., where he was a four-time all-star

Among the group found to have C.T.E., 50 were football players, including 33 who played in the N.F.L. Among them were stars like Dave Duerson, Cookie Gilchrist (who also played in the C.F.L., where he was a four-time all-star – ed.) and John Mackey. Many of the players were linemen and running backs, positions that tend to have more contact with opponents.

Six high school football players, nine college football players, seven pro boxers and four N.H.L. players, including Derek Boogaard, the former hockey enforcer who died from an accidental overdose of alcohol and painkillers, also showed signs of C.T.E. The study also included 21 veterans, most of whom were also athletes, who showed signs of C.T.E.

The volume of cases in the study “allows us to see the disease at all stages of severity and how it starts and spreads in the brain, which gives us an idea of the mechanism of the injury,” said Ann McKee, the main author of the study, who is a professor of neurology and pathology at Boston University School of Medicine and works at the V.A. Boston.

Those categorized as having Stage 1 of the disease had headaches and loss of attention and concentration, while those with Stage 2 also had depression, explosive behavior and short-term memory loss. Those with Stage 3 of C.T.E., including Duerson, a former All-Pro defensive back for the Chicago Bears who killed himself last year, had cognitive impairment and trouble with executive functions like planning and organizing. Those with Stage 4 had dementia, difficulty finding words and aggression.

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