NFL Stars

Ten-time all-pro NFL linebacker Junior Seau suffered from a condition in which lesions form on the brain following years of head trauma, according to new research from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Seau committed suicide last year at the age of 43. He indicated that after his death his brain should be donated to science for proper study. The NIH released a statement Thursday saying that Seau suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition seen in many retired NFL players.

Symptoms of CTE

CTE is a type of chronic brain damage similar to dementia that has been found in other former NFL players. Depression-like symptoms, including insomnia, and memory problems are the hallmarks of CTE.

CTE is caused by repeated blows to the head over a span of years. It has received much attention and study lately specifically related to NFL players.

In an NIH study performed at the University of Texas at Dallas, 34 retired NFL players were evaluated based on their memory and thinking skills, and 26 of them underwent brain scans. Twenty of the men—ages 41 to 79 with an average of 10 years in the league—were considered cognitively normal compared to men their age without any professional sports experience, according to the study published in JAMA Neurology

Two of the former players in the study had dementia, and the remainder of the study group had some type of mental impairment. Eight of the players also suffered from some level of depression—a higher rate than is typical for men in their age groups. 

Those with cognitive problems were more likely to have problems with their brains’ white matter, which contains nerve fibers that allow the brain to communicate with the rest of the body.

“Cognitive deficits and depression appear to be more common in aging former NFL players compared with healthy controls. These deficits are correlated with white matter abnormalities and changes in regional cerebral blood flow,” the study concluded.

A similar study released in November concluded that soccer players also run a high risk of damaging the white matter in their brains.

Seau, like other former NFL players, experienced both depression and insomnia toward the end of his life. Another former NFL player, Dave Duerson, committed suicide in 2011 and also asked that his brain be studied for evidence of head trauma. 

In 2012, roughly 3,000 former NFL players filed a lawsuit against the league on the basis that the NFL masked the risk of brain injury while using the violence of the game as part of its marketing strategy.

A Study Focused on Youth

Also this week, the Institute of Medicine announced it will be launching the largest ever study into the impact of sports-related head trauma in young people.

The study will focus on sports-related concussions and the impact they have on young, developing brains. Researchers will examine children from elementary school through high school.

Previous research on the subject concluded that brain injury was most common in football and girl’s soccer.