How Repeated Concussions Damage Your Brain Forever

After repeated head impacts, experienced in sports like American Football, the brain can begin to shrink and deform, causing dementia-like symptoms. Why is this happening and can we stop it? Howdy gang, I’m Trace, thanks for watching DNews today. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE is a serious condition first discovered in the 1920s with boxers, because boxers get hit in the head, a lot… both during practice and during a match. According to one medical examiner in a 1928 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, “nearly one half of the fighters who have stayed in the game long enough” will experience something they called being, “punch drunk,” “slug nutty,” or, peculiarly, “cutting paper dolls.” In the 20s they termed this dementia pugilistica — word of the day: pugilist, which means boxer, but today, we call this derangement CTE. Even nearly 100 years ago, these specialists were recognizing repeated cranial impact has huge implications. The brain is bound by the same laws of physics as everything else and thus will move until something stops it, namely, the skull, this is called a concussion. And even a minor one, has a serious affect on your brainbox. If the smack is hard enough, the brain tissues can become deformed or permanently damaged, even lesser sub-concussions, when taken together, can affect the brain long-term.

Basically, any activity where the head comes to a sudden stop, repeatedly, has the potential to trigger concussions, and additively will cause this degenerative brain disease. CTE has been found in people who play American football, ice hockey, soccer, rugby, boxing, and wrestling, plus members of the military! Even people who only played in high school can develop CTE. This is shocking stuff! And I just want to stop and say, more pads can not stop the brain from moving INSIDE the skull, any more than a larger bumpers stop a person moving in a car crash.

In another study from the 1920s, boxers’ brains were looked at after death, in an autopsy, which is when they realized something was wrong… their brains had atrophied, or shrunk. CTE is difficult to diagnose, because it manifests as behavioral changes that mimic other brain disorders like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. Once the neurons and axons in the brain are permanently altered from the repeated impacts so to is behavior, emotional control, memory, reasoning skills, physical and mental controls… CTE affects everything. The brain reacts to these impacts by literally shrinking — called cerebral atrophy. In modern studies, doctors found as much as a 30 percent loss of the frontal, parietal, and temporal lobes! The damage centers on collections of neurons, infused with a protein called tau. Tau normally helps stabilize neurons in the brain, but in CTE it manifests as neurofibrillary tangles, turning the brain a yellow color. Neurofibrillary tangles are literally that, they look like the tau protein threads have become bundled up and though how this happens isn’t entirely understood by science, all the patients have these tau tangles. In the end, as the brain shrinks and the amount of tangles grows, the person gets more aggressive and less emotionally and physically stable, and, frighteningly, more suicidal.

Obviously, this is all bad. CTE, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are all tauopathic diseases, and unfortunately, research on living people with these disorders is still ongoing, and as of now there’s no cure. Which means, once CTE sets in, usually in middle age, decades after the repeated impacts occurred, nothing can be done. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is manifesting in athlete after athlete, because they’ve spent their whole careers smashing into one another, either on purpose or on accident; and even this week, there was another death attributed to the mental anguish that comes along with this brain disorder. In the end, our brains are the source of everything we are. Sometimes, concussions can knock a person unconscious, or worse, they can slip into a coma, but what exactly IS a coma? I’ve looked into that too, right here. Does the discovery of CTE and it’s mental and behavioral consequences make you think twice about joining sports? Or for encouraging athletes to hit each other for our entertainment?.