Football Injuries Linked to Dementia

Christine Kennard Health Pro
  • Mike Webster, hero of the Pittsburgh Stealers in the 1990s died at 50. He had played for the Steelers bteween 1974 to 1989, helping win the Super Bowl four times. But even before Webster retired he had began showing signs of mental instability associated with dementia, memory loss and depression.


    An autopsy following Mike Webster's death in 2002 was carried out by Barnet Omalu, a forensic pathologist, who suspected repetitive head injuries sustained while playing football, were the cause of his erratic behaviour. Although Webster's brain looked normal when the pathologist examined it, cross section slides of brain tissue showed abnormal tau protein commonly seen at levels in people 80 and 90 year olds with dementia.

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    A diagnosis of repetitive brain injury, later refined and called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), was given to the condition. The recognition of the dangers of repeated blows to the head during the sport has now led to a judicial committee in the House of Representatives in Detroit on December 4th 2010. It is hoped that more research will lead to further changes in practice that protect not only professional football players, but also by college and school players too.


    Evidence of the link between dementia and traumatic brain injury has been accumulating. The University of Michigan, surveying 1000 retired professional football players, found 19 times more cases of Alzheimer's disease or dementia than normal for men between the ages of 30 and 49. Previously the University of North Carolina had found increased levels of dementia in retired players who had suffered concussions.


    The National Football League (NFL) has now accepted the need to tighten its rules in order to protect players. Guidelines were introduced last month that require any player who shows signs of concussion remains off the field until the following day.


    There are many different types of dementia and any publicity and research that throws light on dementia, its causes and prevention is welcome. Research is increasing our understanding of conditions that cause dementia. Alzheimer's disease is the most common type, 70 per cent of all cases of dementia.


    About 5.3 million American are estimated to have Alzheimer's at the present time. By 2050 that number will increase and could range anywhere from 11 up to 16 million people.


    More Information on Dementia, Traumatic Head Injury and Alzheimer's


    Video Animation on Tau Protein and Alzheimer's Disease


    How does Alzheimer's Differ from other Types of Dementia?


    More on Chronic traumatic encephalopathy from Boston University's Alzheimer's Disease Center


Published On: January 08, 2010