CTE hits athletes differently
TORONTO—A degenerative brain disease linked to repetitive brain injuries, such as concussions in athletes, initially may affect people in one of two major ways: dramatically altering their behaviour and mood or impairing memory and thinking abilities, a study suggests.
That disease—chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE—has been found in the brains of deceased professional and amateur athletes, members of the military injured by blasts during combat, and others who experienced repeated head trauma.
“The disease is not injury. The brain trauma sets it off,” added Stern, explaining that post-mortem examinations have shown there’s a progressive build-up of an abnormal protein in certain areas of the brain.
For the study, published online yesterday in the journal “Neurology,” the research team looked at the brains of 36 male athletes, aged 17-98, and diagnosed with CTE after death.
Most had played amateur or professional football while the rest had played hockey or were involved in wrestling or boxing.
None of the subjects had other brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.
Researchers interviewed family members about the athletes, asking whether they had developed dementia or changes in thinking, memory, behaviour, mood, or the ability to carry out tasks of every-day living.
They also reviewed the athletes’ medical records.
Stern said 22 of the athletes exhibited behaviour and mood problems as their first symptoms of CTE while 11 initially were bothered by memory and cognitive impairments.
Curiously, three of the athletes did not show any signs of CTE before their deaths, although the disease was present in their brains.
“The people with the behavioural and mood symptoms as their presenting problems started to show those problems at a younger age than the people who had the cognitive and memory problems, who presented their difficulties at a later age,” Stern said from Boston.
For the mood-behaviour group, symptoms first appeared at age 35 on average, compared to an average age of 59 in the memory-cognitive group.
The study found that 91 percent of those first affected by mood and behaviour changes eventually experienced memory and cognitive decline, as well.