AMHERST, NY, November 20, 2012 /24-7PressRelease/
-- Public awareness about the dangers of traumatic brain injuries and professional sports is surging. Like it or not, the NFL and its players are on the front line of this growing discussion. Several thousand NFL players are suing the league for allegedly covering up the known risks of professional football.
After Junior Seau committed suicide earlier this year at the age of 43, his family donated his brain to science to help unravel the possible brain consequences of a professional football career. The family is also speaking up about the famous linebacker's last days. His son says that Seau demonstrated numerous mental health symptoms, including many indications of severe brain damage.
Among other concerns, it appears that numerous lighter or "sub-concussive" injuries can pile up to cause just as dangerous consequences as severe individual concussions. This means that even non-professional athletes may find themselves unexpectedly facing disabling conditions later in life as a result of undiagnosed childhood brain injuries.
Football and CTE
Seau's family donated brain tissue to the National Institute of Health. The institute's spokesperson said that it would not announce the condition of Seau's brain but numerous other studies have shown consistent chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a brain disease that grows out of numerous head injuries. As the brain deteriorates, CTE symptoms include depression, memory loss, and even dementia.
People who knew Junior Seau said that his once-sharp memory and concentration fell apart. The athlete apparently also suffered from anxiety and insomnia. Since 18 of the 19 studies of professional football players' brains found indicators of CTE, it appears likely that Seau's condition grew out of numerous concussions during his career.
Surprisingly, Seau's medical record does not list any concussions. Experts say that this reflects a failure to report and respond to head injuries rather than a truly clean bill of health.
CTE can also develop from smaller, "sub-concussive" hits to the head. Although these injuries are not as dangerous as concussions, they still accumulate and can cause great damage. One of Seau's former teammates estimated that Seau probably suffered at least five sub-concussive hits every game, amounting to 1,500 injuries over the course of his career.
Another football player explained the feeling of fighting down a football field. He said that every play along the way ended in collisions and that by the time the team reached a turnover, he felt like he was going to black out. The player said that he could see spots and stars from the repeated hits to the head.
Implications for Non-Professional Players
As evidence starts to pile up to show that dangerous CTE can result from smaller sub-concussive hits, observers are beginning to look beyond professional sports. For example, multiple lighter head injuries could just as easily cause brain injuries in youth sports. Kids who play contact sports--either at school with helmets or in their back yards with friends--may be at great risk of developing similar symptoms later in life.
CTE symptoms like early onset dementia and memory loss can harm an individual's ability to work. After banging their heads around the football field as children and teenagers, former athletes could find themselves unable to earn a living and entitled to Social Security benefits. Social Security benefits can go a long ways towards helping disabled people move forward in life - but a whole and healthy brain is even better.