Concussions can lead to dementia

The “60 Minutes” TV program recently ran a segment on long-term effects of concussions sustained in sports.  First associated with pro boxers, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a condition seen only in people who suffer repeated dazing blows to the head.  It is  diagnosed after death by examining brain tissue for abnormal proteins that show up as dark brown pigment in brain sections.  These proteins are neurofibrillary tangles of tau, which are also characteristic of Alzheimer’s and other dementing illnesses.  CTE has been diagnosed in the brains of several deceased pro football players over the past few years.

Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist at Boston University School of Medicine, has been working on a brand new area of research on the brain that has provided physiological proof of brain disease in athletes who have suffered concussions.  …

“I’ve looked at brains from people that have lived to be 110. And you just don’t see anything like this, what we see in these athletes,” she told Simon

Even more troubling, she says, CTE actually progresses undetected for years, silently eating away at brain cells, until it causes dementia and other cognitive problems.

“It seems to be triggered by trauma that occurs in a person’s youth; their teens, their 20s, even their 30s. But it doesn’t show up for decades later,” she explained. “People think it’s a psychological disease or maybe an adjustment reaction, maybe a mid-life sort of crisis type of thing. But actually, they have structural disease. They have brain disease.”

Dr. McKee’s research found that athletes in any contact sport are at risk of permanent brain damage.

You can see the video and read more at  http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/10/08/60minutes/main5371686.shtml

In retrospect, I sure am glad dear old Dad (a general practioner) forbade me from playing contact sports while growing up!