Concussions and Brain Disease

Written By: The Daily


New evidence ties repeat head injuries to brain disease

Monday, December 3, 2012
Published in The Daily
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    PHOTO: Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Jovan Belcher was being treated for debilitating football-related head injuries before he killed himself on Sunday.


PHOTO: Frank Eltman/AP

Yamiesse Lawrence, left, and Quaresha Boston, center, a cousin and niece of Belcher, read a statement in West Babylon, N.Y., yesterday.

Just two days after an NFL linebacker with a history of head injuries committed a shocking murder-suicide, a new study links more athletes than ever before to a degenerative brain disease that can lead to depression and suicide.

The report, published yesterday by the Boston University School of Medicine, focuses on autopsies of 85 brain donors, most of whom were former athletes who had signs of brain damage after repeated head injuries.

The autopsies revealed extensive evidence of protein tangles clogging brain tissue and causing the destruction of brain cells in people with a history of head injuries like football and hockey players, wrestlers, boxers, and military combat veterans.

The researchers reported in the journal Brain that 68 of the 85 individuals they examined, all of whom had experienced repeated head trauma, had evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in their brain tissue.

Symptoms of CTE include depression, memory loss, cognitive problems, and dementia, but it is nearly impossible to fully diagnose in someone still alive, because the brain must be examined directly to confirm the damage.

The report comes on the heels of the tragic case of Jovan Belcher, a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs who shot and killed his girlfriend in front of his mother on Saturday morning, then drove to the Chiefs’ practice facility, where he killed himself in front of head coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli in the parking lot.

Belcher, who left behind a 3-month-old baby girl, was reportedly drinking every day and taking painkillers to cope with debilitating football-related head injuries.

Co-author Dr. Robert Cantu told the Boston Globe that the study proves CTE is a real condition caused by repeat head injuries.

“The sheer size of our study should make any doubters no longer doubt,” Cantu, a neurosurgeon and co-director of the BU Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, told the Globe.

Still, there are skeptics like Peter Warinner at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, also in Boston.

“Yes, we can all agree now that this is a real brain condition,” Warinner told the Globe, “but we don’t all agree on whether multiple concussions cause the emergence of this entity.”

– Staff and wire report

Inconceivable tragedy

Relatives of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, who shot and killed his girlfriend before killing himself, are struggling to deal with what they describe as an “inconceivable tragedy.”

Belcher killed 22-year-old Kasandra Perkins at their Kansas City home Saturday before driving to Arrowhead Stadium, where he committed suicide in the practice center’s parking lot.

Yesterday, Belcher’s cousin Yamiesse Lawrence told reporters outside Belcher’s home in West Babylon, N.Y., that words could not express the family’s sorrow.

The family is “overwhelmed with both sadness and confusion,” Lawrence said, adding that they were extending thoughts and prayers to the Perkins family.

Quaresha Boston talked about how her uncle “embraced life and excelled at all he put his energy behind” and suggested that God alone could “mend our hearts.”

– Associated Press  


There is growing awareness of testing for concussions; baseline testing; symptom recognition and increasing evidence that repetitive trauma to our brains might be an issue. What most people might say is ” isn’t that obvious?”. I would tend to agree.


What is often missing in concussion discussions is the question of function. What I mean by this is with each trauma how well were the individuals functioning afterwards? What was their brain function prior to trauma? Was function re-established? Did they do any brain rehab? Many would say that they no longer had symptoms and their activities of daily living were not an issue therefore they were fine. They couldn’t be more wrong.


Symptoms and function are not the same thing. We are well aware that disease states such as diabetes, heart disease or cancer, exist prior to symptoms; prior to overt functional changes; even prior to the potential for diagnosis. Most are  likely in agreement that it is a good idea to treat these disease states regardless of whether symptoms are present or not.


Why do we not take this same approach with our brains? Why do we not look beyond symptoms to determine if our brains are operating as expected? Why do we not look at what might be beneficial for our brains with respect to preventing the potential of diseases of the brain as it relates to concussions? Would it not be a good idea to get baseline functional testing; treat functional deficits; feed our brains the right foods; eliminate things that may be detrimental to brain function and continue to train our brains in a manner that builds a bigger brain “muscle”? It seems to be that this is a “no brainer”?


Maybe, just maybe, if we paid attention to how our brains are performing and we continually focused on optimizing our brain’s level of  function, pre and post trauma, we might find that our brains are more resilient to these repetitive brain injuries.


David Burns, ND DC DACNB FACFN at Brain Centers NW

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