We've discussed the increasing evidence that concussions and other head trauma suffered by athletes can have lifelong consequences on the brain. Although numerous former players have come forward to report neurological and memory problems, depression and other mood disorders they believe were caused by years of hard knocks to the head, the diagnosis of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) could only definitively be made after death. Some players like Junior Seau allowed their brains to be studied post-mortem to enable doctors to learn more about the disease that impacted their lives, as well as those of other athletes and military veterans.
Now it looks like researchers at UCLA are closer to identifying the degenerative condition in living people. They say they have diagnosed CTE in three former National Football League (NFL) players who are still alive. The most famous of them is 59-year-old Hall of Famer, Tony Dorsett. Dorsett, Joe DeLamielleure and Leonard Marshall all showed evidence of CTE in brain scans conducted at the university.
Prior to receiving the news that he did indeed have signs of CTE, Dorsett told the media that he decided to participate in the research at UCLA because he was experiencing suicidal thoughts, depression and memory loss. Dorsett said that he even forgot why he was flying to Los Angeles to undergo testing. The other two players also mentioned memory loss, depression and strange behavior as concerning symptoms that prompted them to undergo testing.
At the beginning of the year, researchers at UCLA, under the guidance of the director of the Brain Injury Research Institute, first announced that they had found signs of CTE in living people who had played pro football. CTE is a brain disease found in people who have suffered concussions or other head trauma. The physiological signs, including the buildup of plaque in the nerve cells of the brain, are similar to those seen in people with Alzheimer's.
If doctors can definitively diagnose CTE in living patients, they can likely better find medications and other treatments to help slow and perhaps one day even reverse the effects of this degenerative disease. This would be welcome news not only for athletes, but for the thousands of men and women coming home from war who have suffered traumatic brain injury.
Source: CBS News, "CTE diagnosed in Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett, two other living NFL players: Report" Ryan Jaslow, Nov. 07, 2013