Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease associated with a history of repetitive brain traumas. Repeated, forceful blows to the head are the greatest risk factor in the development of CTE. Researchers and physicians have only begun to understand, therefore more time and research is needed to fully understand the symptoms of CTE.
CTE is compared to similar conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Based on the present research, these conditions involve the loss of a substantial number of brain cells. In CTE, a protein forms clumps around the brain and spreads slowly, eventually killing brain cells. Signs of CTE are:
- Memory loss
- Personality changes such as depression
- Erratic behavior such as aggression
- Problems paying attention and organizing thoughts
- Difficulty with balance and motor skills
Traumatic brain injuries can be moderate to severe and the symptoms can vary with the length of unconsciousness from the brain injury. A mild traumatic brain injury causes short-term symptoms that usually appear at the time of the injury, but also can occur days or weeks later.
Concussions and TBIs suffered in the sport of boxing have been associated to CTE. CTE was first described as “punch-drunk syndrome.” Boxers who suffer many repeated blows to the head that do not cause unconsciousness may be at an increased risk of CTE. This is due to the fact that CTE in boxers is linked to the number of blows to the head, not the number of times the boxer was knocked out.
This evidence concludes that CTE is caused by repetitive hits to the head happening over a period of years, not a handful of concussions. The best possible evidence suggest that sub-concussive impacts, or hits to the head that don’t cause full-blown concussions, are the biggest factor. It may take thousands of hits to the head over years and years in playing contact sports such as boxing or football.
Research has shown that the length of exposure is found to be a dependent variable in developing CTE as it poses a greater risk in football players. CTE risk is correlated with length of career, as athletes with longer careers are more likely to have more severe pathology than those with shorter careers.
As of now, CTE is only diagnosed through post-mortem brain tissue analysis. Currently, there is no test that can determine if a living person has CTE, so the autopsy after death is the only opportunity for diagnostic testing. There is no treatment or cure.
Simply put, the only way to avoid getting CTE is to prevent getting repeated injuries to the head. As previously noted, CTE is similar to Alzheimer’s disease; caring for someone with the diagnosis can be overwhelming as it progresses. With the evidence we have available, we can conclude that CTE mimics the symptoms created from a TBI. There are several ongoing major research studies that are gaining further insight into the injury patterns and changes in the brain affected in CTE.
James A. Heuer, PA is a personal injury attorney helping individuals with TBI after suffering one himself. He is located in Minneapolis, Minnesota.