This is a reference page about CTE that is included in my series of Parkinsonism Pugilistica my experience/journey
I am not a doctor or trained in the medical field or an expert. This is only my journey and if you think you have need medical advice suggest going to a doctor or medical facility!
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) results from blows to the head over a period of time that cause concussion (mild traumatic brain injury). These injuries lead to difficulties with thinking (cognition), emotions and behaviors that do not become noticeable until many years later. CTE can lead to physical problems as well. Not everyone who has one or more concussions develops CTE.
CTE involves progressive damage to nerve cells (neurodegenerative disease). The damage results in visible changes to the brain. Some of these changes can be seen with brain imaging, but a diagnosis at this time can be made only on inspection after death (autopsy). Researchers are working to find a way to diagnose CTE in those who have the disease while the individuals are still alive.
Originally called punch drunk syndrome (dementia pugilistica), CTE was first demonstrated in boxers. Doctors now know that other individuals who play a wide variety of sports that involve repeated blows to the head, such as football players, can develop CTE. Military personnel who have had blast injuries also are at risk.
Researchers do not yet fully understand CTE’s prevalence and causes. There is no cure for CTE.
Symptoms of CTE are like those of other conditions that involve progressive loss of function or structure of nerve cells (neurodegenerative diseases), including:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Frontotemporal dementia
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) — also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease
Overall, people with CTE first have problems with thinking (cognition), mood and behavior. Later, they may also develop physical problems.
Military personnel who have experienced traumatic brain injury may experience post-traumatic stress disorder.
Signs and symptoms of CTE usually begin eight to 10 years after repetitive mild traumatic brain injury. These include:
- Difficulty thinking (cognitive impairment)
- Impulsive behavior
- Depression or apathy
- Short-term memory loss
- Difficulty planning and carrying out tasks (executive function)
- Emotional instability
- Substance abuse
- Suicidal thoughts or behavior
Over time, memory and executive function may become worse, and other signs and symptoms may develop, including:
- Speech and language difficulties
- Motor impairment, such as difficulty walking, tremor, loss of muscle movement, weakness or rigidity
- Trouble swallowing (dysphagia)
- Vision and focusing problems
- Trouble with sense of smell (olfactory abnormalities)
Researchers use the following stages to describe the progression of CTE symptoms:
- Stage I. Headache, loss of attention and concentration
- Stage II. Depression, explosivity and short-term memory loss
- Stage III. Decision-making (executive) dysfunction and cognitive impairment
- Stage IV. Dementia, word-finding difficulty and aggression
They have also created four stages to describe the process of damage to brain tissue.
CTE causes ongoing pathological changes that once are started, continue to have an effect for years or decades after the original traumatic brain injury or after an individual retires from a sport. Symptoms progress throughout an individual’s life.
CTE progresses in two patterns. In younger people, it may begin with behavior and mood changes, whereas in older people, it may begin with cognitive problems that progress and may lead to dementia. It’s not known whether there are two different disease processes or if the process changes over time.
When to see a doctor
CTE develops over many years, long after repeated mild traumatic brain injury occurs.
However, see your doctor in case of the following:
- Suicidal thoughts. Some studies report that people with CTE may be at increased risk of suicide. If you have thoughts of hurting yourself, call 911, your local emergency number or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255).
- Head injury. See your doctor if you have had a head injury, even if you didn’t need emergency care. If your child has received a head injury that concerns you, call your child’s doctor immediately. Depending on the signs and symptoms, your doctor may recommend seeking immediate medical care.
- Memory problems. See your doctor if you have concerns about your memory or other thinking (cognitive) or behavior problems.
- Personality or mood changes. See your doctor if depression, anxiety, aggression or impulsivity occur.
The main cause of CTE is repetitive head trauma. Football players have been the focus of most CTE studies. However, athletes participating in other sports, including soccer, ice hockey, rugby, boxing, wrestling, basketball, field hockey, cheerleading, volleyball and lacrosse, may experience repeated head impacts and also have high rates of concussion.
Blast injuries to military personnel also can result in CTE.
However, not all athletes and not everyone who experiences repeated concussions, including military personnel, go on to develop CTE.
Effect of injury
CTE causes the wasting away (atrophy) of many parts of the brain. Injuries to the section of nerve cells involved in conducting electrical impulses (axons) interfere with cell-to-cell communication. Other changes include deposits of the proteins tau and TDP-43, and changes in white matter — the part of the brain made up of nerve fibers. Unlike in Alzheimer’s disease, deposits of beta-amyloid, another protein, are not common.
More than one-third of people with CTE also have signs of another neurodegenerative disease, including Alzheimer’s disease, motor neuron disease, Parkinson’s disease or frontotemporal lobar degeneration
Tests and diagnosis
There currently is no definitive test for CTE while people are alive. A diagnosis requires evidence of degeneration of brain tissue, and deposits of tau and other proteins in the brain that are visible only upon inspection after death (autopsy). Some researchers are actively trying to find a test for CTE that can be used while people are alive. Others continue to study the brains of deceased individuals who may have had CTE, such as football players.
Eventually, the hope is to use a range of neuropsychological tests, brain imaging and biomarkers to diagnose CTE. In particular, imaging of amyloids and tau — types of proteins — will aid in diagnosis
Treatments and drugs
CTE is a progressive, degenerative brain disease for which there is no treatment. Currently, the best approach is to prevent head injury and stay informed about the latest recommendations for proper detection and management of mild traumatic brain injury.
If you had a concussion recently, you will not have developed CTE. However, you should take care of yourself until you have fully recovered in order to prevent additional injury. If your symptoms return at any point:
- Cut back on activities
- Get plenty of rest
- Reduce physical activity
- Avoid too much computer time
- Get plenty of sleep
- Return to activities gradually, with guidance from your doctor
- Avoid drinking alcohol and take only prescribed medication
- Write things down or limit tasks, as needed
- Ease back into work
- Consult others before making major decisions
It is especially important to avoid a second concussion before the first one heals (second impact syndrome). A second concussion can result in permanent brain damage or death.
If you are caring for someone who has symptoms typically associated with CTE, he or she may benefit from supportive care similar to that provided for people with other kinds of dementia.
- Calming environment. Reducing clutter and distracting noise can make it easier for someone with dementia to focus and function. It may also reduce confusion and frustration.
- Reassuring responses. A caregiver’s response to a behavior can make the behavior, such as agitation, worse. It’s best to avoid correcting and quizzing a person with dementia. Reassuring the person and validating his or her concerns can defuse many situations.
- Modified tasks. Break tasks into easier steps and focus on success, not failure. Structure and routine during the day help reduce confusion in people with dementia.
- Regular exercise. Help with activities such as a daily 30-minute walk to improve mood and maintain the health of joints, muscles and heart. Exercise can also promote restful sleep, prevent constipation, lessen symptoms of depression, help retain motor skills and create a calming effect. Someone who has trouble walking may still be able to use a stationary bike or participate in chair exercises.
- Games and thinking activities. Participating in games, crossword puzzles and other activities in which people are using thinking (cognitive) skills may help slow mental decline in people with dementia.
- Nighttime rituals. Behavior is often worse at night. Try to establish going-to-bed rituals that are calming and away from the noise of television, meal cleanup and active family members. Leave night lights on to prevent disorientation.