Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, otherwise known as CTE, is a degenerative brain disorder that affects only a fraction of a percentage of people in everyday life.
However, recent studies have found that the degenerative brain disease CTE affects an overwhelming majority of football players who experience other life-threatening or fatal health problems. One of the most published studies found that 110 out of 111 NFL players who had died recently were all linked through CTE.
The Power of CTE
CTE is one of the worst degenerative diseases the brain can experience. Its symptoms are long-standing and intense, and they can strongly affect the people around the victim in a negative way.
CTE has been linked to memory decline, dementia, depression, insomnia, reduction in executive function and suicidal behavior. In the case of every NFL player that has committed suicide, CTE was found to be a mitigating factor. There is also a provable link between CTE and the number of concussions that an athlete has experienced. There are more than 3.8 million concussions that are related to sports that occur in the United States per annum.
CTE is linked to repetitive trauma focused on the head. No sport exposes its athletes to this kind of trauma more than American football. After many years of needling, protests and scientific studies, an NFL health official finally acknowledged that professional football has a definitive link with CTE.
The Journal of the American Medical Association Report
Researchers in this report looked at 202 different brains of people recently deceased. All of these people had played football at some level, from the NFL all the way down to high school. The researchers found that 87% of these former athletes could have been diagnosed with CTE if they were alive.
Of the 202 brains studied, 111 of them belonged to NFL players. Of this subgroup, 99% of them had CTE.
This study is important because it immediately doubles the CTE cases that were reported previously from the NFL. The study also exposed that people who play football can actually expect to experience CTE. This is not an outlier condition that requires extreme carelessness or a freak accident to occur. During the course of regular play, in full headgear and padding, NFL players still get CTE with an overwhelming likelihood.
The study also found that the severity of CTE coincided directly with the amount of football the athlete had played. Those who stopped playing football in high school experienced the least severe symptoms. Those players that made their way up the ranks to college, semi-pro and the NFL had worse symptoms. The most common symptoms among those with mild CTE included behavioral issues, problems with cognition and volatile mood swings.
As the researchers moved into those with more severe CTE, more severe symptoms were found. Within this subgroup, 95% experienced negative cognitive symptoms, 85% of them experienced dementia, and 89% suffered from mood swings or behavioral problems. These problems could include anxiety, lack of impulse control and depression.
Still No Causal Link?
As with all scientific studies, researchers are very careful to represent a causal link if there is any doubt in the process. Researchers in the Boston University study acknowledged that the results may have been skewed due to a number of factors.
- Researchers accounted for the uptake in news reports about CTE and NFL players with head trauma.
- Researchers admitted that the families of deceased athletes with cognitive problems may have been more motivated to participate in the study, donating the brain of their deceased relative to research.
- Researchers also admitted that they had a limited supply of brains to study. There is no way to know if the sample for the experiment was representative of the type of people who actually play football. Because of these limitations in the study, researchers said that the numbers they found were not meant to represent a prevalence of the disease in athletes. They were able to say, however, that their findings do suggest a relationship between CTE and playing football. Further research will need to be conducted before scientists can say there is a definitively causal link.
40% of formal NFL players are found to have brain injuries of some kind. Although this may seem like proof, it actually works against the findings of researchers focused specifically on CTE. It may be possible that players who were studied in the Boston University CTE study may have incurred the disease from a weakened cognitive state induced from previous conditions.
No Football for Little Johnny?
Scientists hold themselves to a very high my standard of proof. Causal links imply the absence of all other mitigating factors, something that really may never be accounted for in the unpredictable world of sports. It is definitely safe to say that children who play football will have a higher instance of CTE than children who do not.
As competition becomes more serious up the chain, the prevalence of injuries will definitely become more widespread. Players also become bigger as they move closer to the professional ranks. The impacts that may just not the wind out of a peewee player may break the ribs of a professional player. This is definitely something to consider before putting your child in a football game. There is no reason to risk catastrophic brain injuries to give children experience with athleticism.