A new report on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, has been published, and it links symptoms such as mood changes and mental decline with the brain disease, according to the Associated Press. The study, backed by lead author Robert Stern, a neurology professor at Boston University's medical school, involved 36 former athletes, most of whom were professional football players.
CTE is a disease usually diagnosed after death, and little is known about it to this point. Repeated head injuries, including concussions, are thought to be a significant risk factor. The disease process is thought to begin early on, prior to any symptoms appearing in most cases, and "involves an increasing buildup of abnormal proteins in the brain," according to the report.
The study took brain images after death, medical records and family interviews. All the players involved were men between the ages of 17 and 98. Some of the numbers are as follows: in younger players, mood and behavior changes, such as depression and anger issues, began showing up at an average age of 35, and in older players, mental decline was the first symptom, which started at an average age of around 59.
In all, there were 22 players who developed mood or behavior changes and 11 who had memory problems or other mental decline. Three of the players studied showed no symptoms. Of the 36 former athletes, six of them died from suicide.
What this all means is there might be ways to diagnose CTE before death, which could lead to possible treatment of the disease and its symptoms. It's still very early on, and the study was very limited given the small sample size and the dependence on family interviews. It's particularly noteworthy for the NFL, which is being sued by thousands of former players who claim the league withheld information about the negative effects of repeated blows to the head and concussions.