By On September 9th, 2013

Kerouac, Concussions and CTE

Brain ScanI have always been a reader of the New Yorker and once in a great while there is an article which crosses over from my pleasure reading into my professional life. In this week’s New Yorker, Ian Scheffler, wrote a story about the possible connection between Kerouac’s football days, fighting, mood problems, substance abuse and decline. Being a fan of Kerouac and a brain injury professional I was drawn to read the story which I wanted to share with Neuro Notes readers. Scheffler compiled Kerouac’s history of brain injuries and sent it onto experts like Robert Cantu, MD, a neurosurgeon and co-director of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. Dr. Cantu speculated that Kerouac likely had C.T.E or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Kerouac started in high school football and went on to play a bit in college. He was involved in car accidents and engaged in fighting. He suffered from depression for many years and drank heavily. He questioned a car accident he had in Vermont in 1951 as the cause of his problems and following a 1958  beating in fight he reported problems with memory. Kerouac’s behaviors and lifestyle sends up some red flags.

In addition to Robert Cantu, Scheffler sent Kerouac’s history to Kevin Guskiewicz at the University of North Carolina at Chapel where he studies sport-related TBI; Gary Small a psychiatrist a UCLA who is studying C.T.E in living people and Christopher Nowinski a former athlete, concussion activist and co-director of the Boston University Center for the Study of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. All remarked that Kerouac had a significant history of head trauma. Without Kerouac’s brain it can’t be determined if he had C.T.E., but the indicators related to the long-term effects of multiple brain injuries, depression and impulsivity certainly gives rise to the question: Did Jack Kerouac have C.T.E.?

Kerouac typified the Beat Generation and chronicled the era with his books. Now, as we look into his life, perhaps there was something more to what made up Jack Kerouac.

Click here to read Ian Scheffler’s story.


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