CTE & Your Brain: How Hard Lessons from the NFL Might Help You or Someone You Love

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) has been in the news a lot over the years from Aaron Hernandez of the New England Patriots, whose post-mortem brain at age 27 showed such severe CTE that it was similar to a brain of someone well into their 60s, to Frank Gifford and a slew of ex-NFL players.  

If you’ve never heard the term before but are a current or former football or contact sport player, love someone who is or even follows the NFL, listen up.  

Research shows prevalence of significant brain damage to ex-NFL players 

Researchers at Boston University have reported finding CTE, a degenerative brain disease directly linked to repeated head hits, in 345 of the 376 former NFL players they’ve studied. The university’s CTE center said that there’s a 91.7% occurrence rate of CTE in ex-NFL players due to repetitive head impacts. Results from BU’s 2017 study found 99% (110 out of 111) former NFL players who donated their brain to science were diagnosed with CTE after death. 

The NFL has come under fire in the past for not protecting their players properly and players are concerned about their health and the impact repeated concussions have on their futures.  

Retired Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer and his former teammate and tight end Jeb Putzier have announced recently that they will be donating their brains to CTE research upon their deaths questioning whether they should have ever played the game at all due to the significant medical issues they’ve had. 

It’s not just football 

A new CDC study reports youth tackle football athletes ages 6 to 14 sustained 15 times more head impacts than flag football athletes during a practice or game and 23 times more hard head impacts. Head impacts increase the risk for concussion and other serious head injuries. 

And it’s not just football, a slew of rugby players in the UK have filed legal action over possible brain injuries including CTE. Also, American women athletes have taken their lives all of whom had sustained brain injuries in their sports. 

According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, the following sports/recreational activities represent the categories contributing to the highest number of estimated head injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms in 2018. 

  • Cycling: 64,411 
  • Football: 51,892 
  • Playground Equipment: 38,915 
  • Basketball: 38,898 
  • Exercise & Equipment: 37,045  
  • Powered Recreational Vehicles (ATVs, Dune Buggies, Go-Carts, Mini bikes): 30,222 
  • Soccer: 26,955 
  • Baseball and Softball: 24,516 
  • Rugby/Lacrosse: 10,901 
  • Skateboards: 10,573 
  • Trampolines: 8,956 
  • Hockey: 7,668 
  • Skating: 7,143 
  • Golf: 6,357 
  • Horseback Riding: 6,141 

So, how does this impact you?  

If you’ve ever had a concussion or especially if you are an ex-player or have a child or grandchild in a contact sport involving the head, it’s important to understand the risks and what to look for.  

The CDC describes a concussion as a brain injury which happens after a hit to the head or body causes the brain to move back and forth inside the skull. 

Signs and symptoms of CTE include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, anxiety, suicidality, parkinsonism, and, eventually, progressive dementia. These symptoms often begin years or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of active athletic involvement. 

Contact your doctor if you have any issues with the above. You only get one brain, protect it in every way that you can for a lifetime of health.  

We’re here for you! 

Looking for ways to keep your brain healthy in retirement? Read how here. 

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