CTE may start developing as early as high school
Because it takes so long for the telltale symptoms to appear, many think of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) as something that is only a concern for older athletes or veterans. This is furthered by the fact that CTE can only be officially diagnosed in autopsies after death.
Despite this, researchers from Boston University School of Medicine CTE Center say that chronic traumatic encephalopathy often starts much earlier – after only playing football at the high school level.
To come to this conclusion, the researchers examined the brains of deceased American football players who had donated their brains for research between 2008 and 2016. Then, the team evaluated their past medical history and performed retrospective clinical evaluations using online surveys and telephone interviews with people who knew the players before their deaths.
In these interviews, participants were asked about the players’ demographics, education level, athletic history, military history, and traumatic brain injury history.
Notably, the researchers conducting the interviews and evaluations were not given information about the results of the autopsy neurological examinations. Similarly, the neuropathologists examining the brains were not given access to the clinical findings.
In autopsies, the researchers diagnosed 177, or 87% of the football players in the study with CTE. The breakdown of diagnoses was: 0 of 2 pre-high school (0%), 4 of 14 high school (29%), 46 of 53 college (87%), 10 of 14 semi-pro (71%), 7 of 8 Canadian Football League (88%) and 110 of 111 National Football League players (99%).
This leads the researchers to believe that the early signs of CTE in the brain can develop as early as high school, despite an absence of clear symptoms. The condition then progresses with age until it develops into severe neurofibrillary neurodegeneration.
While the memory issues, behavioral problems, and motor-function issues that characterize CTE don’t tend to develop until later in life, it is important to remember that the seeds of CTE are often planted much earlier. Football players in high school are putting themselves at risk for a permanent brain disease that could affect the rest of their lives – even if they aren’t feeling the effects yet.
The findings were presented this week at the Association of Academic Physiatrists Annual Meeting in Puerto Rico and built upon research which previously made headlines for identifying high rates of CTE in professional football players.