High suicide rates reported in athletes who endure repetitive head trauma

Dylan Bettencourt

A study into concussion in sport has found that more than half of the deceased athletes who donated their brain to the study had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Three of the donors died under the age of 35.

The Australian Sports Brain Bank published its findings on Monday after examining 21 brains posthumously donated by athletes since the establishment of the bank in 2018.

Of the brains examined, 17 of them had played American football. Twelve of the donors were found to have CTE injuries while only one donor did not show signs of neurodegeneration.

CTE can only be confirmed as a definite diagnosis after an autopsy.

It is a neurodegenerative condition linked to head traumas. Symptoms include cognitive impairment, impulsive behaviour, depression, suicidal thoughts, short-term memory loss and emotional instability.  

The findings made by Associate Professor Michael Buckland indicate that there should be major concerns across all age-groups when it comes to collision-based sports.

“CTE was identified in the brains of older former professionals with long playing careers, but also in younger, nonprofessional sportsmen and in recent professionals who had played under modern concussion guidelines,” said Buckland and fellow researchers in a paper published by the Medical Journal of Australia.

The professor added that six of the 12 donors that had CTE died by suicide, emphasising that suicide risk factor when it comes to CTE.

The establishment has had more than 600 brain donation pledges from both amateur and professional athletes to be examined in the future.

Sports across the globe are working towards removing the risk of CTE while maintaining the essence of the sport.

Rugby introduced guidelines which restrict full-contact training while football reduced the number of headers players are allowed to perform during training, across all age-groups.

Combat sports such as boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA) have not introduced restrictive guidelines but do apply medical suspensions to limit the number of fights athletes can have per year.

Image source: @TheConversation


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