Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is described by the Concussion Legacy Foundation as “a degenerative brain disease found in athletes, military veterans, and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma.” A degenerative disease is one that essentially deteriorates organs or tissues — in this case the brain. CTE can affect people in a variety of ways, to include behavioral and personality changes; it can also affect motor function and memory. The symptoms often begin to present themselves years after the injury in the form of personality changes, and in the worst cases can eventually lead to dementia. However, regular cases can still produce very serious problems, and the chances of getting CTE increases with each repeated injury.
Unfortunately, there is no sure way to test for CTE short of an autopsy. According to CBS, leading CTE researcher and neuropathologist Dr. Ann McKee found CTE in 110 out of 111 deceased football players from the NFL. She would later conduct a study and confirm that 65% of deceased veterans who had suffered a bTBI (blast traumatic brain injury) were found with CTE. CTE has also been found in cases of repeated domestic abuse.
As diagnostic research and technology continues to advance in regards to CTE, then perhaps treatment options will begin to present themselves. As of now, there are efforts to develop an effective system of identifying CTE before it takes hold, most of which has been pioneered by Dr. Ann Mckee. If properly identified it does becomes possible to treat the symptoms. There already exist treatments for memory loss due to trauma to the head, mood changes or simply headache-relief — the difficulty is diagnosing it early on.
CTE was initially known as dementia pugilistica, and was mostly associated with boxing, known as “punch drunk syndrome.” Since then, it has been identified in other sports and eventually on to military circles.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have shone a particular light on blast TBIs and the effects on service members, as insurgency forces have taken to using IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) more regularly. When an insurgent is outgunned by multiple American forces with far superior training, an IED is an easier, more realistic way to do serious damage that only requires basic, crude bomb-making materials. Because of this, bTBIs are a common injury sustained by American forces, resulting in over 375,000 veterans having sustained some sort of bTBI.
Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.