WESTBROUGH, MA January 18, 2018 The scientists studying the damaged brains of older athletes have had the opportunity to study brain damage in athletes who died from other causes. In 4 such cases, there was evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) that was not commensurate with the degree of brain trauma that was observed during their athletic careers according to Felice Freyer of the Boston Globe. This recent study was published in the journal Brain illustrates that the onset of CTE may be closer to onset of brain injury than first thought not much later in life.
“The report, published Thursday in the journal Brain, also provides what Goldstein called “the best evidence to date” supporting the theory that CTE is caused not just by concussions, but rather by any blow to the head, including mild impacts. Instead of diagnosing and responding to concussions, he said, coaches would do better to protect children from all hits to the head.” Felice Freyer – Boston Globe 1-8-18
The possibility of younger athletes developing CTE and the symptoms associated with this progressive disease is quite worrisome especially to parents. It was always thought that CTE would develop later in life if at all. With the prospects of the disease having a much earlier onset the cost of CTE over a lifetime is incalculable in terms of medical costs and neuropsychological sequelae that may evolve in time. The true impact of this and the consequence for repeated, subclinical blows to the head is only now becoming clear.
Like dementia of the Alzheimer’s type the build up of tau protein underlies the changes associated with CTE. “Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a condition bringing forth progressive tauopathy that occurs as a consequence of repetitive mild traumatic brain injury. We analysed post-mortem brains obtained from a cohort of 85 subjects with histories of repetitive mild traumatic brain injury and found evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in 68 subjects: all males, ranging in age from 17 to 98 years (mean 59.5 years), including 64 athletes, 21 military veterans (86% of whom were also athletes) and one individual who engaged in self-injurious head banging behavior” according to the journal Brain. McKee, A. et. al. 2017
Head injuries at the time were treated as mere nuisances. Players reacted to violent head blows by trying to blink away their blurred vision, shake the ringing from their skulls, and trundle back to their huddles, unless they were flagged by sideline doctors. Even then, they generally returned quickly to action. Boston Globe October 2017
WESTBOROUGH,MA July 25, 2017 The laboratory at the Boston University School of Medicine has recently completed its initial examination of over 100 brains donated by the family members of those athletes who have died because of marked behavior and personality changes attributed to playing football. The results confirm the presence of destructive proteins that have come to be known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy. This was first reported over 10 years ago and was featured in the movie Concussion released in 2015 starring Will Smith as Bennet Omalu, M.D. who first reported on the syndrome.
WESTBOROUGH, MA October 7, 2016 The clock of the week brings up an interesting question. What is encephalopathy? I hear that all the time from patients and more likely, family members who are confused as to the definition of encephalopathy. I will make an effort in this blog to provide some explanation for this. Look at the clock and see that is quite confused. Remember prior published clocks and the fact that the directions are exactly the same for every person. “Draw the face of a clock, put all the numbers on it and set the hands for 11:10”. Essentially it is a three step command that requires both attention and problem solving. In prior published blogs and You Tube videos I have made an effort to illustrate the range of clocks given by patients of various diagnostic classifications.
Encephalopathy is a common manifestation in patients with sepsis (infectious illness) such as pneumonia and urinary track infection, delayed hemodialysis, and many others. In refers to brain dysfunction often due to multifactorial issues including metabolic and infectious causes. According to the Health Line encephalopathy may be temporary or permanent. The patient who created the illustrated drawing was very cooperative but subject to altered mental status when getting sick, fatigued or on dialysis days. The treatment for encephalopathy depends on the underlying reason for the AMS but largely is treating the symptom picture to manage the patient comfortably.
Symptoms of encephalopathy often begin rapidly and may be seen as confused behavior, decreased attention, and poor problem solving. Neuropsychology services across the country are referred these patients in earnest in hope of tracking changes in their cognitive status and behavior. The assessment process is lengthy. At some point, patients are asked to make up a sentence containing a noun and a verb as part of the basic cognitive screening. As you can see from the illustration below, this patient had difficulty with this task. Almost any sentence will suffice but in this case the woman added the heart to represent the word ‘love’ and placed a smiley face at the bottom of her page to indicate her completion of the task. Persons with encephalopathy often exhibit unusual limitations in their awareness of their condition and exhibit varying levels of confusion throughout the day. Slowly these symptoms resolve – sometimes quite rapidly. Just as rapidly, some patients are vulnerable to altered mental status at the first sign of infection.