Fighter’s Brains Show Changes Before Symptoms Appear

The New York Times reports that preliminary findings from the year-old Professional Fighters Brain Health Study show that physical changes in the brain resulting from repeated blows to the head are detectable before memory loss and decline in cognitive function appear.

According to Dr. Charles Bernick, the focus on blows that result in concussion rather than on many lesser blows may be too narrow.

Read the article at nytimes.com.

Frequent Heading of Soccer Ball Can Cause Brain Damage

A new study of the brains of soccer players who have played since childhood and currently play in adult leagues shows that “the players who had headed the ball more than about 1,100 times in the previous 12 months showed significant loss of white matter in parts of their brains involved with memory, attention and the processing of visual information, compared with players who had headed the ball fewer times”.

Another study of college players at Humboldt State University in California shows a correlation between frequent heading and poorer performance on tests of visual memory.

There appears to be a threshold below which heading is safe, but a growing consensus holds that children younger than 12 “shouldn’t be heading … and [that] parents should monitor the number of heading repetitions and any accompanying symptoms in older children”.

Read the article at nytimes.com.

Derek Boogaard and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

Derek Boogaard: A Brain ‘Going Bad’ at nytimes.com traces the decline and death of NHL left winger Derek Boogaard. Boogard died on May 13, 2011, as the result of an accidental overdose of drugs and alcohol.  He was 28 years old. Comments from teammates, friends, and family tell a story of a decline into personality change, drug and alcohol abuse, and depression.

Boogaard’s family donated his brain to the Bedford VA Medical Center in Bedford, Mass. Scientists at the center reported their findings to the family five months later:

Boogaard had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, commonly known as CTE, a close relative of Alzheimer’s disease. It is believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head. It can be diagnosed only posthumously, but scientists say it shows itself in symptoms like memory loss, impulsiveness, mood swings, even addiction.

More than 20 dead former N.F.L. players and many boxers have had CTE diagnosed. It generally hollowed out the final years of their lives into something unrecognizable to loved ones.

[…]

But this was different. The others were not in their 20s, not in the prime of their careers.
The scientists on the far end of the conference call told the Boogaard family that they were shocked to see so much damage in someone so young. It appeared to be spreading through his brain. Had Derek Boogaard lived, they said, his condition likely would have worsened into middle-age dementia.

These and other findings show that CTE can start early. They also stress the need for families of athletes to become more aware of executive dysfunction (especially problems with emotional dysregulation due to frontal lobe damage) and the importance of neurorehabilitation for high school and college hockey players who have had concussions.

Read the article at nytimes.com.

College Athletes File Class-Action Suit against NCAA over Concussions

The New York Times reports that a class-action suit claiming the NCAA has been negligent in addressing concussions suffered by athletes has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern district of Illinois on behalf of Derek Owens, Adrian Arrington, Mark Turner, and Angela Palacios. Palacios is a former soccer player; Owens, Arrington, and Turner are former football players.

NYT writer George Vecsey interviewed Owens, who describes his history of concussions, the first two of which he sustained in high school. His most recent concussion, in 2010, resulted in depression, migraine, and poor academic performance.

The NCAA says that the suit is “without merit”.

Read the article at nytimes.com.

Former NHL Linesman Pat Dapuzzo Talks about Post-Concussion Depression

Former NHL linesman Pat Dapuzzo is just one of a number of hockey players who have been in multiple collisions and have sustained multiple concussions as a result. He is also among the number for whom the consequences of those injuries are ongoing.

Dapuzzo, retired from active play and now a scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs, has battled depression post-concussion. He has made a commitment to donate his brain and spinal cord to the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy.

Read the article “Recovery Doesn’t Stop After Injuries Heal” at nytimes.com.