Our society places extraordinary emphasis on sports. In my experience, one of the first things parents do for their school-aged children is sign them up for after-school soccer or swimming. In some towns, football players in high school are treated like royalty. Students get scholarships for their athletic talents. Certain professional athletes earn millions each year. And Superbowl Sunday is practically a national holiday in the United States.
Now, I’m not saying that sports are bad. Not at all. They teach us important lessons about teamwork, dedication, and fitness, but they can be harmful when they cause recurrent injuries, especially those to the head.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is a condition in which repeated blows to the head (say, from a tackle in football) cause progressive cognitive and social decline. Continuous head trauma like concussions causes a protein called tau to build up in the brain. This accumulation of tau leads to brain degeneration that is associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulsive behavior, aggression, and depression, which ultimately progresses to dementia. A 2012 study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that there is nearly a four-fold increase in Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease in former NFL players. Additionally, those who played positions in which high-speed collisions were more common were three times more likely to die of a neurodegenerative disease compared to those who played positions where high-speed collisions were less common (like linemen). It is believed that Junior Seau, a former NFL linebacker, committed suicide last year because of CTE.
Although the easiest way to avoid head injury is to abstain from playing contact sports, this isn’t always so simple in our society. It is certainly advisable to wear helmets when playing any sport where there is a high risk of head injury, but helmets can only go so far. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, it is important to seek immediate medical attention if you do experience a head injury.
- NFL Players at Risk for Death From Alzheimer’s, ALS from Medscape Today News by WebMD, LLC. <http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/770378>
Article by Sylvia Bowditch
Feature Image Source: American Football International