New findings reveal that a brain scan could provide those who risk further brain injury an early warning that long-term damage with consequences has already happened.
As of yet, the only people who have received a conclusive diagnosis of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, CTE, have been those examined postmortem, primarily former athletes who died from dementia or suicide, according to the Los Angeles Times.
CTE is defined as the constellation of cognitive and psychiatric symptoms that appear as a result from repeated head injuries, often found in athletes. But even the definition of the disease is a work in progress. The main physical attribute of the disease is abnormal protein tangles scattered throughout the brain.
The research being done now could possibly lead to the ability to diagnose CTE in the living. Although this is a preliminary study, needing to be followed up with larger ones, it is still a positive prospect.
The disease is presumed to be degenerative. Neuroscientists and radiologists compare the protein found in former athletes’ brains to those seen in Alzheimer’s disease as well as motor neuron disease.
Although the behavioral symptoms between these diseases overlap, scientists were clear in that they are very different illnesses.
The symptoms of CTE are often depression, anxiety and intellectual impairment. With the hopes of early detection by brain scans, it is the anticipation that they can then take steps to protect their brains from further injury and intercept the symptoms before they occur.
Tests were done on football players ranged in age from 40 to 86. The results showed that all but one of them had a combination of cognitive impairment and either anxiety or depression. All of the subjects were exposed to blows that caused concussions and subject to regular, less-forceful impacts as well.
The scans from the athletes were then compared a set of normal control subjects and a set of subjects with Alzheimer’s disease. All of the former athletes showed abnormal deposits of protein in their brains when compared to the normal control subjects.
Researchers also found in a few of the former football players some evidence of Alzheimer’s disease. They also noted that this was found in the oldest subjects which meant that their brains could have come under a separate attack actually from Alzheimer’s or that they were indeed in the final stage of CTE.