Entries in Brain Disease (3)


Degenerative Brain Disease Found in 34 Pro Football Players

Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images(BOSTON) -- On the heels of the latest NFL suicide, researchers announced Monday that 34 NFL players whose brain were studied suffered from CTE, a degenerative brain disease brought on by repeated hits to the head that results in confusion, depression and, eventually, dementia.

The study was released just days after the murder-suicide of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher. It's not yet known what triggered Belcher's action, but they mirror other NFL players who have committed suicide.

Researchers at Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy published the largest case series study of CTE to date, according to Boston Medical Center. Of the 85 brains donated by the families of deceased veterans and athletes with histories of repeated head trauma, they found CTE in 68 of them. Of those, 34 were professional football players, nine others played college football and six played only high school football.

Of the 35 professional football players' brains donated, only one had no evidence of the disease, according to the study.

According to the new study, Boston University researchers divided CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, into four stages, the first of which involves headaches and the last of which involves "full-blown dementia." The disease involves brain tissue degeneration and a buildup of an abnormal protein called tao, which is also found in patients with Alzheimer's disease.

Kansas City police say Belcher, 25, shot and killed his girlfriend Saturday morning before going to the team stadium and committing suicide by shooting himself in the head as he was talking to coaches.

Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said Sunday that Belcher was, "a player who had not had a long concussion history," even though he was a three-time all-America wrestler and a star on the football team at his West Babylon, N.Y., high school. It is not yet clear whether his brain will be donated to the study.

However, the Boston University researchers have not yet determined how much brain trauma results in CTE.

"While it remains unknown what level of exposure to brain trauma is required to trigger CTE, there is no available evidence that occasional, isolated or well-managed concussions give rise to CTE," one of the study's co-authors, Dr. Robert Cantu, said in a press release.

It's not yet clear what prompted Belcher's actions, but his suicide closely follows those of former NFL players Junior Seau, 43, and Dave Duerson, 50, both of whom died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the chest in the last two years. Duerson's brain is being studied at the Boston University research center, where researchers have already learned that he had CTE.

Seau's brain was donated to a different facility and the results have not been released.

In 2006, former Pittsburgh Steelers player Terry Long killed himself by drinking antifreeze, and former Philadelphia Eagles player Andre Waters shot himself in the head. Both of them suffered from CTE.

CTE has also been found in hockey players, wrestlers and boxers. It's still not possible to diagnose while a person is alive.

Seau's death in May prompted NFL player Jacob Bell to quit the sport altogether, leaving behind his contract with the Cincinnati Bengals.

"We're getting so much money, so much glory, so much fame; we're boosting our egos so much by playing a sport that's violent and could later on risk our lives," Bell said in May.

CTE researchers from Boston University were unavailable, and do not comment on players' deaths until more research is obtainable.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Two Cases of Rare Brain Disease in California

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(MARIN COUNTY, Calif.) -- A California woman has died and another is sick after coming down with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare and fatal condition that swiftly destroys the brain.

The Marin County Department of Public Health is investigating the two cases, which are thought to be unrelated.

“We have no evidence that suggests a causal linkage between the suspect cases nor is there any evidence to suggest a risk in [the] food supply,” the department said in a statement.

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Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is very rare, affecting roughly one in a million people each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is thought to be caused by an abnormal protein called prion, which erodes tiny holes in the brain, causing dementia and death in an average five months.

Most Creutzfeldt-Jakob cases are sporadic, meaning their cause is unknown, but a small fraction of cases are inherited. These cases are not contagious. A few very rare cases are linked to mad cow disease, which can be acquired through contaminated meat products, organ transplants and blood transfusions.

Laboratory tests have ruled out mad cow-related disease, called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob, in one of the Marin County cases. The other case is still under investigation, but public health officials suspect it, too, is unrelated to mad cow disease.

“While our investigation of both of these reported cases continues, we want to emphasize that we have no evidence of any environmental or public health risk in Marin County,” Dr. Craig Lindquist, Marin County interim public health officer, said in a statement.

The patients’ names and ages have not been released.

There have only been three variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease cases reported in the U.S. In all three cases, the patient acquired the disease outside the country.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Could Someone with Alzheimer's Disease Run the Country ?

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Six years after finishing his second term as the president of the United States, Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's -- a devastating neurological disease that impairs memory, judgment and reasoning. But the former president's son, Ron Reagan, says he saw the early signs of Alzheimer's while his father was still in office.

"It wasn't anything that obvious. It wasn't like, 'Oh my God, he doesn't remember he's president,' Ron Reagan said in an exclusive interview with ABC News. "It was just, I had an inkling that there might be something going on."

Alzheimer's disease, which is estimated to affect up to 5.1 million people in the U.S. according to the National Institute on Aging, is an irreversible and progressive brain disease that affects a person's ability to carry out the simplest tasks of daily living. But subtler changes in memory and mood can signal the disease's early stages.

"Most commonly people complain of short term memory issues," said Dr. Gary Small, director of the University of California, Los Angeles Center on Aging. Forgetting plans and having trouble remembering names or words -- the so-called 'tip of the tongue' phenomenon -- are common early symptoms. And although they might not interfere with someone's job in the beginning, they will as they worsen.

"If it really is early Alzheimer's and it progresses over the years, the person's memory and cognitive ability become more impaired," said Dr. David Loewenstein, chief of psychiatry at the University of Miami. This can affect a person's attention to detail and their ability to keep track of situations and react accordingly -- all of which affect a person's ability to do their job. For Ronald Reagan, the job was running the country.

Ron Reagan's half-brother, Michael Reagan, has publicly rejected the notion that their father had symptoms of Alzheimer's during his tenure as president.

"Look what he accomplished in the last four years of his presidency: Reykjavik, START agreements, all the things he accomplished. The speech at the Berlin Wall in 1987 on June 12th," Michael Reagan said in an interview on CBS' The Early Show. "Someone with dementia does not accomplish all of those things."

But depending on the level of support people have in organizing their daily lives, early symptoms of Alzheimer's may go unnoticed, Loewenstein said.

"A lot of people in very high positions -- not just presidents -- are surrounded by people who organize their lives and cover for them," Loewenstein said. "I've seen cases where people are, frankly, demented and actually very impaired in doing their job, but they're covered for so successfully by their staff."

"A lot of people do notice changes and get upset," Loewenstein said. "But there are others who don't notice them at all. The changes are really seen by those around them. We don't know what other colleagues saw and we may never know. But even when certain people are aware, they tend to downplay it."

Age is a risk factor for Alzheimer's. And at 69, Ronald Reagan was the oldest man to be elected president. During his campaign, he pledged to resign if he became "senile" -- a term that refers to age-related dementia -- while in office.

But without a clinical evaluation by a neuropsychologist, Alzheimer's disease in its early stages is difficult to detect, Loewenstein said.

"We're coming up with better biomarkers. And in the future, we may have better medical tests," he said.

But if you do notice cognitive changes in yourself or someone else, talking to a doctor early can make a significant difference.

"Even though there's no cure, there are treatments. The earlier you get started, the better the outcome," said Dr. Small.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio