CTE and its violent underpining

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Google images – CTE
WESTBOROUGH, MA January 20, 2018 More is becoming known about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE.  It is now able to be diagnosed prior to the death of the patient by identifying unique protein markers in the blood of those who have sustained multiple brain injuries.  Former professional wrestler Chris Benoit was found to have CTE after killing his wife and son before killing himself in 2007. But murder or other violence against others has not typically been associated with CTE until recently.  As recently as summer, 2017, the brain of former N.E. Patriots star Aaron Hernandez was also found to have signs of severe CTE raising the specter of its possible impact on his violent life and eventual death by suicide. I have posted post-mortem photos of his brain first published on the Boston University site in a prior blog on my Concussion site (Sefton, 2017).  See that post by clicking here.  It is now understood that an athlete need not have sustained numerous concussions in his career to be found to have CTE at time of death.  More so, the accumulation of repeated blows to the head – subconcussive force – is being implicated in the etiology of this complex disease process. So contact sports like football, rugby and ice hockey are being closely scrutinized by experts in concussion, athletic training and sports medicine.  Researchers at BU School of Medicine have reported that a protein known as CLL11 may be elevated in the brain and spinal fluid of athletes with a history of brain injury.  It holds some promise of being able to diagnose athletes before death.  This protein leads to elevate Tau protein a known cause of progressive brain damage associated with dementia.
In 2014, The K.C. Star reported that analysis of Belcher’s brain after he’d been exhumed revealed a key signature of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, best known as CTE, a degenerative brain disease found to cause dementia, confusion, depression and aggression). “Belcher’s murder-suicide is the worst possible example of domestic violence, and these findings come as the NFL is under attack for its handling of domestic violence.” (Mellinger, 2014 Kansas City Star). 
“CTE has been found to cause erratic and sometimes tragic behavior by some NFL players, perhaps most notably Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau, who killed himself last year. The disease, only recently diagnosable before death, has often been found in former and longtime football players.” Mellinger, 2014 K.C. Star
 Riding a bicycle is a leading cause of brain injury in childhood. Recently, CTE has not been diagnosable before death. It has been found over and over in former and longtime football players. Domestic violence behaviors cut across all socioeconomic strata.  They germinate in an environment of secrecy often early in courtship.  During this time abusive spouse slowly isolates his intimate partner from her support – family, friends, finances.  “In doing so there is a subtle but undeniable manipulation of control – usually coupled with threats and intimidation.  There is growing awareness that red flag behaviors precede DV and domestic violence homicide.  Things like pathological jealousy, forced sexual contact, manipulating friendships, detachment from members of immediate family and others are the early signs of domestic violence.” (Sefton, 2012)  Some believe that the most significant pre-incident red flag is whether or not the victim truly believes she is going to be killed by her intimate partner one day and that these victims are at most risk of death.

Sefton, M (2012) Athletes and Celebrities Not Immuned: Kansas City Chief’s player kills wife and self in act of DVH, Blog post December 1, 2014, taken December 28, 2017. 
Sefton, M. (2017). Brain and Behavior: B.U. scientist says Aaron Hernandez had CTE. Blog post, Nov 19, 2017 Taken December 28, 2017
Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/sports/nfl/kansas-city-chiefs/article2296030.html#storylink=cpy
Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/sports/spt-columns-blogs/vahe-gregorian/article187534063.html#storylink=cpy
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CTE found in teenage brains by B.U. team

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

McKee, A. et. al. (2017) The spectrum of disease in chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Brain, Volume 136, Issue 1, 1 January 2013, Pages 43–64, https://doi.org/10.1093/brain/aws307

Once common treatment of concussion

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

Brain and Behavior: B.U. scientist says Aaron Hernandez had CTE

Westborough, MA November 18, 2017 The NFL has some explaining to do. Why are former athletes killing themselves and in some cases other people? As students studying the brain it was something special when you could make a correlation between an identified brain lesion and the behavior you are seeing.  I was in China in early November 2017 at a conference on RNA targeted therapy for cancer.  As the non-scientist in the group I was referred to as the clinician who saw the phenotype rather than the genotype – referring to the innumerable genetic underpinnings of cellular biology and changing science of modified nucleotides.  I understood this to have some meaningful interest to the faculty that consisted of 3 prior Nobel laureates and leading scientists in RNA targeted therapy.  So after sitting through hours of presentations I realize the importance of not making a rush to judgment about the cause of some predicted outcome. As a neuropsychologist we are asked to make assumptions about brain integrity after CNS infarcts and make educated predictions about the functional implication of focal lesions in brain.
Recently the scientists at Boston University announced the results of the post-mortem analysis of the brain of Aaron Hernandez, former N.E. Patriots receiver and convicted murderer.  Hernandez had his conviction expunged after he died while his case was on appeal. The 27-year old brain was highly suggestive of having the tell tale signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE thought to be the result of repeated concussions and now realized as the result of hundreds – perhaps thousands of sub-concussive blows to the head that accumulate over time.  Hernandez’s brain was the youngest of the donated brains to be identified with advanced CTE. Hernandez played football for 17 years starting when he was a young boy. The question remains did the brain damage that was identified in the post-mortem analysis cause behavior change in Hernandez and could the murder of Odin Lloyd be attributed to the build up of dangerous tau protein in his brain?
“While no one can prove a causal link between Hernandez’s brain damage and his actions, there is little dispute that he displayed CTE symptoms associated with behavioral problems, such as aggressiveness, explosiveness, impulsivity, and suicide.”
Boston Globe Bob Hohler November 9, 2017
By history Aaron Hernandez was an angry, impulsive and violent teenager that his mother reported began when his father died suddenly. Coupled with this was a biological proclivity toward degenerative brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease and CTE.  Both are diagnosed only after the death of the victim. We know that brain-behavior relationships exist from research in stroke and traumatic brain injury where focal injuries result in specific and expected changes in behavior.  These often result from a disconnection between functional centers of the brain including limbic structures that link centers for emotional regulation and the frontal system that exerts inhibitory control over those emotions. The athlete’s who have donated their brain’s upon their death have almost universally exhibited changes in behavior including poor impulse control, depression, and anger.

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BU Medical School and WCVB images 2017

Biofeedback: Teaching the body to return to a proper homeostasis

WESTBOROUGH, MA  November 8, 2017  There are several types of biofeedback that are useful when recovering from a concussion.  The first may help with the stress response that sometimes goes into overdrive after TBI or concussion. This involves becoming familiar with the fight-flight mechanism and its useful purpose as an early warning system.  Throughout time the autonomic nervous system (ANS) allowed animals and man to be ready whenever threats to personal safety were present. When we are able to out fox the threat then our sympathetic cascade may slowly return to normal as the parasympathetic breaking mechanism exerts its balancing influence.
There is no way to avoid a stressful life it seems.  Some people are better than others at reducing the impact of stress.  Excercise, healthy eating, regular sleep, and mindfulness reduce the impact of the stress and tension we all experience in our lives.   Michael Sefton 2017
The automatic process of sympathetic arousal ramps us up as if to say “bring it on” – activating us to fight or fly the coop.  The problem all too often is an insidious elevation of normal baseline physiological values that create a sympathetic-parasympathetic mismatch. This results from over active adrenergic fibers largely activated by hormones such a cortisol looking the system.  Over time this leads to heart disease, hypertension, and a host of inflammatory diseases and may prolong those needessly.

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Shown here is the HRV biofeedback screen used for paced breathing and coherence training seen here at Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital

The primary goal of all modalities of biofeedback including psychophysiologic and neurofeedback is to restore the body to its “normal” state.  The process promotes mindfulness and paced breathing to gradually lower respiratory drive, reduce heart rate and blood pressure, and enhance other abnormal physiological readings of skin conductance, finger temperature, and electromyography.  It takes practice and understanding of its value. Not everyone has elevations in each these bodily measures. The specifics of abnormal findings are discussed as part of the treatment plan with the doctor or clinician.
There is a well established link between heart rate and the pace of breathing. Autonomic regulation is the role of the brain stem that maintains the diurnal pattern of arousal for wakeful activity and sleep hygiene.  The brain stem regulates heart rate and respiratory drive as well.  These functions are vital to survival and comprise the autonomic nervous system.  The ANS functions as the brain and body’s alarm system signaling the need for fight-flight activation.  When this system is damaged due to traumatic brain injury the recovering subject can have wild swings of autonomic arousal such as elevated heart rate – patients sometimes chug along at 140-160 while autonomic storming.   Paroxysmal changes in blood pressure may pose significant risk, respiratory rate may become tachypnic, patients frequent are febrile and may become excessively sweaty  as a consequence of autonomic dysfunction.
“Autonomic dysfunction must be carefully managed in patients recovering from TBI. This is not conceptually novel although its application to health conditions continues to broaden. Biofeedback may be a useful modality for migraine headaches, anxiety, pain management, concussion, and stress. I have used a combination of physiologic and neurofeedback for patients with failure to thrive, depression, post-concussion syndrome, and severe traumatic brain injury” 2014).  In 2006 I was invited to London, UK to present the findings of a case study with a high school boy who had sustained a severe TBI and was in a minimally conscious state.  The results were remarkable and not entirely the result of the neurofeedback protocol I used with him.  Our team did a good job keeping him moving and gradually he became more functional and regained his independence. It was a fun trip I was able to take with colleague Paul Liquori, MD, medical director at Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital in Bradford.
Relaxation and mindfulness have existed for over 60 years bringing together conscious conscious effort to control bodily system that were once thought to be automatic.  Sefton, 2016

Sefton, M (2014) Blog post: https://concussionassessment.wordpress.com/consultation/topics-in-neuropsychology/tbi/autonomic-dysfunction/ Taken 11-13-17.
Sefton, M (2016) Blog post: https://concussionassessment.wordpress.com/2016/04/01/biofeedback-for-post-concussion-syndrome/ Taken 11-13-17

Clock of the Week – September 25, 2017 Micrographia

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Clock of the week drawn by 79-Y/O male with bilateral embolic CVA (note size approximately 8 mm)
WESTBOROUGH, MA September 25, 2017 This clock is unique simply on the basis of it’s size.  The scale below the 3 clocks is used for measuring wounds.  It was given to me by the certified wound care specialist here at Whittier.  The top clock was the “finished” product.  One can see all the numbers were written and there was a series of hands drawn that appear as scribble moving from left to right.  The numbers fall outside of the circle – drawn by the patient.  You can appreciate what effort went into the clock as small as it was – only 8 millimeters across.  Micrographia is a term given to drawings that are tiny – a syndrome often assigned to dysfunction in the frontal lobe of the brain.  Just to be sure, I consulted with Lezak – 3rd Edition.  Micrographic written output is seen in patients with Parkinson’s Disease. In another blog published in 2016, I shared a similar clock and describe this interesting syndrome.

Clock of the Week

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Dr. Michael Sefton at Boston Museum of Fine Arts
WESTBOROUGH, MA September 15, 2017  Much has been published about the utility of the clock drawing in making preliminary assumptions about the cognitive health of an individual who may be referred for neuropsychological assessment.  I use it all the time and those of you who have submitted clocks for publication here agree with my assumptions.  The photograph at the left was taken at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts by a colleague Dr. David Kent, a neuropsychologist from Worcester, MA. There are several posts that identify some of the literature behind the assumptions I make about clock drawing and cognition.  Here is another link: Clocks and cognition

 

 

Click and see the interesting “Clock of the week