What is CTE?

CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is a progressive, degenerative disease which afflicts the brain in individuals who have suffered repeated concussions and traumatic brain injuries.

CTE has been in the news lately as many well-known football players are coming forward in declaration of their personal journey with the condition, and it was recently disclosed that the late Frank Gifford, the famous former running back of the New York Giants, also suffered from the condition. Individuals who play a wide variety of sports that involve repeated blows to the head, such as football players, and military personnel who have had blast injuries are at risk for developing CTE.

Thought to be a condition primarily affecting boxers, and often referred to as dementia puglistica, CTE results from traumatic impacts to the cranium.

In CTE, certain areas of the brain are particularly predisposed to atrophy, though other areas are susceptible to becoming enlarged.

Over time, the brain gradually deteriorates and loses mass, as well as accumulating tau protein, a substance which serves to stabilize cellular structure in the neurons. These proteins eventually, through the progression of CTE, become defective and cause major interference with the function of the neurons.

CTE progresses in two patterns. In individuals who are younger, the condition starts with behavior and mood changes. Older individuals experience cognitive problems that progress and lead to dementia.

Symptoms of CTE, which usually being eight to 10 years after repetitive mild traumatic brain injury, include loss of memory, impulsive or erratic behavior, impaired judgment, aggression, depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts or behavior, difficulty with balance and a gradual onset of dementia.

Later, the condition can cause physical problems, similar to ALS.

CTE can often be misdiagnosed, as symptoms are similar to those of Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s. Diagnosis of CTE can only be confirmed through post-mortem examination, but researchers at UCLA have seen positive results in diagnosing the condition in a live subject by identifying the concentration of tau protein in the brain.

Diagnostic testing could make it possible to screen athletes, military personnel and others who may be at risk for developing CTE, and thus help to safeguard their future as well as find a way to treat the condition.

An individual who has had a history of repeated blows to the head, and who is experiencing memory problems, personality and mood changes, and having suicidal thoughts should visit his/her physician immediately for determination of CTE or other causes of the symptoms.

Questions about Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia disorder? Contact Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, Director of Services at Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area, (225) 334-7494, advice@alzbr.org, or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.