Former NFL linebacker Junior Seau suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated head trauma, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Degenerative brain disease is widely associated with athletes who have sustained repetitive blows to the head.
The NIH’s discovery, made in a controlled study that included Mr. Seau’s brain tissue, reinforces the fact that contact sports athletes who have repeated head trauma can experience significant long-term cognitive impact. Such trauma often causes concussions, a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head.
CTE can only be definitively diagnosed by examining brain tissue during an autopsy. A $30 million research grant from the NFL will help the NIH understand CTE and how to prevent it.
The most important step is to reinforce strict concussion guidelines so players get appropriate medical attention and time off the field before being allowed to return to play. In the case of concussion, it is important to see a physician such as a neurologist for a proper evaluation, which can include neurocognitive and neuropsychological testing. Early recognition of concussion and TBI will allow for closer monitoring in order to prevent future TBI and reduce risks of long-term cognitive effects.