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Athletes Dementia Understanding Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

- Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Many boxers have developed the disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. But CTE has received greater attention recently. More and more athletes -- professional athletes as well as recreational players and weekend warriors -- have been found to have it.

Though chronic traumatic encephalopathy is most common in boxers and football players, it has been found in other people who suffer repeated head trauma: mostly hockey, soccer and rugby players, wrestlers and equestrians, but also domestic abuse victims.
The outward symptoms of CTE will sound familiar to anyone who has experience with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias: memory problems, disorientation and difficulty concentrating are the earliest signs. As chronic traumatic encephalopathy progresses, people begin to show poor judgment, erratic behavior, significant memory loss and some degree of Parkinson's disease (impaired speech, difficulty with motor skills, slow movement and a loss of balance). In more advanced stages of CTE, patients experience tremors, full-blown Parkinsonism, a staggering gait, deafness and dementia.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is also commonly associated with psychological problems like depression, agitation, aggression and violence, loss of inhibitions, sexual compulsiveness, euphoria, drug and alcohol abuse and suicide.
The substance-abuse death of 42-year old football coach Mike Borich highlights these aspects of the disease. Borich's life had become a swirl of alcohol and drug abuse, and violent mood swings were complicated by bouts of disorientation, depression and forgetfulness. Examination of his brain after his death showed that he had suffered from CTE.
The symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy usually show up a few years after an individual has stopped playing a sport, and some researchers believe that the severity of the disease may correlate with the length of time spent in the activity. Sadly, a 2009 analysis of 51 chronic traumatic encephalopathy sufferers revealed that the average lifespan of people with the disease is just 51 years.
Original Article was written for Johns Hopkins Health Alerts