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Brain Damage and Memory Loss Tied to Contact Sports

Boston University researchers link brain damage to hard-hitting sports. The result? A shocking wake up call to the dangers of helmet-to-helmet contact.

You’re not the only guy who has that horrible high school football nightmare: you (the star running back, of course) take a major hit to the noggin and black out as you collapse to the turf. Then you wake up, realize you’re 30—that you hung up your helmet years ago—and go back to sleep, relieved.

Its no secret getting whacked in the head is bad for the brain. Even people who don’t play contact sports know this. But perhaps we, (including some national sports leagues, ehem, NFL) underestimate how severe damage from constant helmet-on-helmet gets.

[See: Did high school football break your brain?]

In a new study published this week in Brain, a neurology journal, Boston University School of Medicine researchers found a connection between brain disease and repeated concussions or head trauma that made the sports world sit up a little straighter.

Researchers examined 85 donated brains, many of which came from former football players, wrestlers, hockey players, and boxers. They found nearly 80 percent of people who experienced repetitive hits to the head showed evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CET), an Alzheimer’s-like condition that results in the slow destruction of brain cells. Symptoms of CET come in four stages: first, headaches and attention loss; second, depression, anger or short-term memory impairment; third, cognitive impairment; and fourth, dementia and sometimes aggression. It’s not pretty.

Study co-author Dr. Robert Cantu, a neurosurgeon and co-director of the BU Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, told The Boston Globe that the sheer size of the study should eradicate any doubts about the connection between brain damage and contact sports.

Our thoughts? From the thousands of pissed off football players who filed suit last year against the NFL (for allegedly hiding information on head injuries and cognitive problems), to small 12-year-olds who play at the middle school level, it’ll be interesting to see how this study plays into the future of football, particularily. Perhaps now, those who criticize harsher contact rules will think twice.

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