We are still discussing the documentary "Head Games" that is making its way around the country right now. The subject is sports-related brain injuries, especially among young kids and teens. The filmmaker includes an interview with retired professional hockey player Keith Primeau, as well as interviews with Owen Thomas's parents. Thomas, a college football player, committed suicide a couple of years ago.
Primeau played professional hockey for 15 seasons before he called it quits in 2006. In his interview, Primeau explains that his future is uncertain. He retired because of the repeated concussions, but he wonders if he will experience the personality change or develop the dementia or other symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. And if he does, will they show up in 10 years or 20 years?
CTE can take years to manifest, and a diagnosis of CTE can only be confirmed with an autopsy. The symptoms include short-term memory problems, personality changes, tremors, slurred speech -- a host of changes that the victim may not even notice, though those around him certainly do.
The interview with Owen Thomas's father reveals that he doesn't believe that CTE was the sole cause of his son's suicide. CTE may have contributed to his son's frustration with his schoolwork, the elder Thomas explained. The effects of a concussion can hang on for months, and the classroom is often where the cognitive issues and the difficulty concentrating first become apparent.
Thomas, though, had never been diagnosed with a concussion. His case was one reason researchers started to look at cumulative trauma in addition to the big blows that knock athletes out. Repeated major blows to the head certainly can cause permanent brain damage; in Thomas's case, a high number of smaller blows over time may have resulted in a brain injury.
But "Head Games" is not just about the casualties. We'll discuss some proposed solutions in our next post.
Source: The Inquirer (Philadelphia), "Documentary film 'Head Games' focuses on brain trauma," Jonathan Tamari, June 4, 2012
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