July 3, 2020
In the wake of the coronavirus, there is a void in the world of sports without college and professional athletics. For many who took the availability of live-broadcasted sports for granted, this can be a trying time. However, what has not stopped is scientific research, including some important research surrounding the impact of sports-related head injuries.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, better known as CTE, is a neurodegenerative disease that stems from repeated head trauma. According to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, CTE is most commonly found in athletes, military veterans and those that participate in activities that involve repeated blows to the head. Physiologically, the condition results from the clumping of a protein in the brain called Tau. When an individual experiences repeated trauma to the head — such as frequent concussions — these protein clumps slowly spread across the brain and kill brain cells. Tau protein clumping, also known as aggregation, also plays a role in Alzheimer’s Disease.
According to the Foundation, CTE can affect people as young as 17 years old. As a sport that is commonly associated with head trauma, football has had a spate of high profile CTE cases. Two weeks ago, azcentral published an article about Zach Hoffpauir, a former safety for the Stanford University football team, who died at the age of 26 on May 14. The article did not name his cause of death but said that Hoffpauir had suffered from Lyme disease, Valley fever, meningitis and multiple concussions. Hoffpauir cannot been diagnosed with CTE prior to autopsy. His family donated his brain to Boston University for research into CTE.
An article published in the Sports, Society, and Technology journal on Nov. 13, 2019 highlights the uncertainty surrounding CTE. While a diagnosis cannot be made until after the patient dies, the neurodegeneration often leads to devastating symptoms while the patient is alive. According to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, initial symptoms include impulse control issues, aggression, paranoia and depression. As the disease progresses, patients can also experience memory loss, confusion and impaired judgement. Eventually, the patient experiences progressive dementia, a gradual loss of mental functions.
Cleveland Clinic explains that CTE is best prevented by reducing the number of times an athlete experiences a blow to the head. If an athlete does experience a concussion, it is important for them to treat it immediately and let it heal entirely before returning to sports. Wearing helmets and protective equipment will also lessen how devastating each brain injury is, resulting in less Tau aggregation.