The National Football League and the Canadian Football League have faced many suicides of players stricken with traumatic brain injury. Cumulative head trauma is the culprit.
Another well known sports personality has died: Ted Toogood, a former Toronto Argonaut. Over the years he played the sport he loved, he was battered about the field in many ways, including having his helmet torqued to one side. The neurons inside his brain would die, leaving in their wake protein that forms clumps, which then lurk in the brain tissue.
The time bomb starts ticking. The more head trauma, the more clumps. The more clumps, the more it affects an individual’s ability to function. Only death reveals the tau protein clumps that build up and turn the brain into a deadly liability, leading to death.
Toogood, like many other players in both football leagues, prided himself on his ability to take hits – hard hits that rocked the brain around inside the skull pan. When he died, a victim of Alzheimer’s, his autopsy showed he also had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Repeated concussions over the course of his athletic career opened the door to Alzheimer’s and led to his eventual death. Although his was not a death by suicide, he was still a victim of a silent killer; one that is rearing its head and sounding a warning call to those that play contact sports.
But, CTE does not only dog athletes. Its study and evaluation may also help battered children, hard working laborers, victims of car accidents, and even the elderly, who are subject to slips and falls. Certainly the concussions sustained in the sporting world have drawn big press, but the problem extends far beyond a playing field. It is just easier to spotlight athletes because they are readily available.
A healthy brain weighs in at about 1.5 kilograms. However, if that brain is subjected to neurodegenerative diseases, it can waste away by one third. Over time, the brain tissue atrophies, the small ventricles enlarge and what was once compact matter begins to slacken. Is the CTE process similar to Alzheimer’s? No one is sure about that, and studies will continue to ascertain if there is a link between the two, such as brain trauma. However, for now, it is a well known fact that Alzheimer’s may arrive as the result of a transient ischemic accident.
For now, death by CTE cannot be determined unless there is an autopsy. Research is striving to find a way to assess concussions faster, while the subject is still alive. The prevailing hope is that if CTE can be discovered earlier, treatment would become possible.