Helmet to Helmet

With the Super Bowl over, so is football season.  For anyone who follows the game, they know that over the past several years, rules and regulations have been established to lower the chances of head trauma injuries as well as  increase the immediate detection of concussions.  During media week, leading up to the Super Bowl, the NFL announced that concussions were down by 25% this season. These changes came into affect because studies started showing that athletes who suffered severe head trauma or multiple concussions tended to develop cognitive issues and memory impairing diseases when they got older.  Was their a link? Many studies followed to determine if their was a link and what it would be.

Dr. Lili-Naz Hazrati, from the University of Toronto,  has been studying the connection between concussions and Alzheimer’s.  Her findings show that even though there is a connection, not every person who suffers head trauma goes on to develop Alzheimer’s or other cognitive impairing diseases.  It appears that the traumas act as a trigger. Injuries that result in brain swelling show the build up of certain proteins in the brain.  These same build ups are found in individuals with dementia, often called plaques and tangles.  If a person is predisposed to Alzheimer’s disease, then it appears that a serious head injury or multiple concussions can trigger the genes responsible for the disease to form.

It has long been known that Alzheimer’s disease is hereditary.  This has led doctors and researchers to seek out specific genes that may be the cause.  Studying those individuals who suffer head trauma but do not develop Alzheimer’s later in life could hold the key to isolating a gene or genes that hold the secret to keeping the disease from forming at all.  The studies are very similar to those researching cancer.  Everyone knows that smoking can lead to lung cancer, but not every person who smokes gets lung cancer.  Scientists and doctors believe that specific cells and genes present in the body dictate whether a person is prone to cancer or not.  The same goes for heart disease.

This has resulted in the nationwide push to eat and live healthier lifestyles.  Organic foods, once considered “hippy food”,  free of chemicals and other harmful ingredients, have become a huge part of American diets.   Sports and fitness programs are also going through constant changes.  Just like everything else in our lives, sports have become faster and harder and more dangerous.   Many of us recall when football players and hockey players wore very little protective gear, if any.  As these sports developed, injuries became more severe and the need for better protection rose.  Unfortunately, cognitive impairments and disease such as Alzheimer’s, don’t show themselves until much later in life.  Muhammad Ali is one of the most famous cases for someone who suffered multiple head traumas that lead to cognitive impairment, in his case Parkinson’s disease.  If he had never become a boxer, would he have still developed the disease?  That can’t be determined, but experts are certain it contributed to it.   Countless other athletes in contact sports, famous and not, have gone on to develop similar issues at a higher rate than their non-athlete counterpart.

As of yet, none of us know if we are carrying around one of these “genes”.  Our family medical histories may guide us as to what’s a possibility. However, we should all consider the fact that we are carrying one or more of them and live accordingly.  By eliminating as many triggers as we can, we may be able to avoid  developing such a disease.

Do you know anyone who may have developed dementia as the results of previous concussions or head injury?  Would this information affect your decision making when it comes to your children and sports?  Please feel free to leave comments and express your concerns about this topic and any others you feel are relevant.  We look forward to hearing from all of our readers.