NHL Star’s Tragic Death Connected to Brain Damage

A growing number of athletes have now died as a result of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)-a brain injury caused by repeated head trauma. CTE acts much like Alzheimer’s on the victim’s brain, leading to a wide range of problems. Time Magazine recently reported on the harm caused by CTE and the need to take a harder look at ways to help athletes who may have fallen victim.

CTE has been shown to lead to memory loss, psychosis, and impulsive behavior. It is this impulsive behavior that often prompts the troubling deaths of victims. For example, the latest victim was twenty eight year old NHL superstar Derek Boogaard who died last year of a drug and alcohol overdose. A few years ago a professional football player died after trying to jump into the back of a speeding pick-up truck. Before that a former wrestler murdered his wife and son before committing suicide. Last year a college football player committed suicide though he had never before exhibited any signs of distress, concussion or illness. All of these players were later diagnosed as having CTE upon post-mortem examination of their brains.

Our Chicago injury lawyers are concerned that what makes CTE particularly troublesome is that it can affect all athletes, even those not in the professional ranks. The cause of the injury is relatively simple. The brain sits in a fluid which helps absorb certain blows to the head. However, that fluid cannot absorb all blows, and there are times when head trauma causes the brain to twist and rattle in the head, often making contact with the inside of the skull. That contact can result in brain swelling and bleeding, both of which can have significant health consequences for victims. Nerve fibers are often damaged in these situations. Usually the brain tries to heal itself, but without proper recovery, there is often not enough time to heal. In other words, if a player suffers head damage and then keeps on playing, the minor dings and hits can continue cause damage and prevent the brain from healing itself.

That failure to heal results in deposits of tau proteins building up on the brain. Some doctors have referred to the proteins as “sludge” which leads to the mental problems characteristic of CTE. It is the same protein build up which causes Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. However, this damage cannot be diagnosed while one is alive, because tau proteins are impossible to detect inside a living person’s brain. Instead, it is only after their death that an autopsy can allow a brain to be sliced and microscopic protein build ups to be identified.

Our Chicago brain injury attorneys agree with the article author who notes that the best cure at the moment is smart prevention. All athletic programs must ensure tougher rules are in place to identify when a head injury has occurred and demand appropriate rest when identified. Also, rules limiting the most damaging type of hits must be in place to ensure that the game does not become deadly for those involved.

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