Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a brain disorder that may be caused by repeated impacts to the head and neck. The disease is degenerative like Alzheimer’s Disease and other illnesses, but it is caused by a preventable amount of trauma to the brain.
This is a relatively new disorder that was only first documented under this name in 1996. It can only be confirmed after death, so research relies on people who will themselves to scientific pursuits in the hopes of understanding the causes and finding treatments. It’s still not understood exactly what causes chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
It takes decades for symptoms to manifest after traumatic brain injuries like concussions.
Formerly known as dementia pugilistica because it was believed to only affect boxers, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease that is caused by repeated traumatic head injury. This can occur through multiple concussions such as athletes in contact sports might experience.
Members of the military are also at risk, particularly if they are in active deployment in war zones or battle fields with explosive devices and loud noise. It is a progressive illness and ultimately the brain ends up losing mass, which can affect overall brain function, particularly memory and cognitive function. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy can really only be diagnosed through autopsy after the patient has died.
Since the understanding of this disease is still in its infancy, there are not many tested and approved treatments for chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
In general, focus is on preventing head trauma and injuries in younger athletes and people in careers with concussion risks.
Treating concussions promptly may also reduce your chances of developing this degenerative condition in the future, but there are only a few studies suggesting this is successful. When medication is given, it’s typically focused on controlling outbursts and other symptoms that can result in injury to the patient or their caretakers. Sedatives and antidepressants are usually prescribed in the later stages of the disease, but only as needed based on the particular symptoms of a patient.
The source of CTE is repeated head injury and trauma to the brain and cranium. The surest way to prevent this is to avoid activity that contains that risk. That would include football, rugby, boxing and certain professions, especially in the military. However, complete avoidance of these activities is not always desirable or possible.
To mitigate risk, proper equipment is essential, including appropriate head gear for the activity, for example football helmets for football players, baseball helmets for baseball players and so on. CTE is not generally caused by a single incident, but by multiple events; therefore, proper care of a patient with a concussion is critical.
Those who have suffered a traumatic brain injury are more likely to have another one. It is very important to let the concussion heal completely before returning to high risk sports or activities. Concussions affect things like balance, judgment and speed of response, so rushing back to the game or the field of battle puts the patient at a much higher risk of further injury, which increases the likelihood of CTE over time.