Non-professional athletes at risk of degenerative brain disorder

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Rugby Union - Australia v Uruguay - IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 Pool A - Villa Park, Birmingham, England - 27/9/15 Australia celebrates after the game. Reuters/Andrew Boyers

People who played youth sports may face an increased risk for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The study, conducted by Mayo Clinic, reports that these people have a higher chance of developing the degenerative brain disorder associated with professional football players.

The team performed autopsies on 66 men who had donated their brains to the Mayo Clinic Brain Bank, using the CTE neuropathologic criteria. The findings linked amateur contact sports such as football, boxing, wrestling, rugby, basketball and baseball with the development of CTE.

“The 32 per cent of CTE we found in our brain bank is surprisingly high for the frequency of neurodegenerative pathology within the general population,” said the study’s lead author, Kevin Bieniek. “If one in three individuals who participate in a contact sport goes on to develop CTE pathology, this could present a real challenge down the road.”

CTE is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder associated with repetitive traumatic brain injury. The Sports Concussion Programme says that the condition can cause memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression and eventually, progressive dementia. The onset usually begins 10 to 20 years after the last brain concussion, however, it can only be diagnosed after death.

“The purpose of our study is not to discourage children and adults from participating in sports because we believe the mental and physical health benefits are great,” Bieniek added. “It is vital that people use caution when it comes to protecting the head. Through CTE awareness, greater emphasis will be placed on making contact sports safer, with better protective equipment and fewer head-to-head contacts.”

According to Frontline,  96 per cent of deceased pro footballers had the condition. In February 2013, Australian footballer Greg Williams was reported to have CTE as a result of concussions over a 250-game career. In 2012, the brain tissue of US baseball player Ryan Freel also revealed the same condition, making him the first Major League Baseball player to be diagnosed with CTE. Chris Benoit was a Canadian professional wrestler who committed suicide after killing his wife and son. Experts say that CTE, found in all regions of his brain, was a major factor for the incident.

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