More and more concerns continue to arise regarding the potential long term effects of cumulative concussions and even sub-concussion repetitive head trauma. A recent NY Times article tells the story of Derek Boogard, a former National Hockey League player and enforcer for the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers.
Boogard sustained multiple concussions throughout his career in addition to repeated blows to his head from his style of play and frequent fights. He had been suffering from significant personality changes, erratic behavior and drug and alcohol addiction. His painful downward spiral culminated on May 13th 2011 when he was found dead from an overdose of alcohol and painkillers. His story is strikingly similar to that of several other former professional athletes who have a history of repetitive brain injury.
Analysis of his brain tissue recently confirmed the expected. Boogard was suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE, a degenerative brain disease that can cause dementia, depression and memory loss. CTE is thought to arise from repetitive brain injury. What makes this case so alarming is his age, he died at 28 and in the prime of his career. At this relatively young age his brain already showed significant findings of this disease. Frequently the dementia and depression associated with CTE leads to drug and alcohol abuse which worsens the overall picture. As the evidence mounts regarding the severe long term consequence of concussion and repetitive lower threshold head injuries, we have to be vigilant regarding prevention, recognition, proper treatment and continued research.
Kevin D. Heaton, DO is the Director of the Sports Concussion and Athletic Training Program at Access Sports Medicine & Orthopaedics.