Impacts of CTE and Mental Illness – Recently Highlighted in NFL Players


Surprising brain scan of a 27 year old football player, convicted of murder and later committing suicide in prison, showed severe CTE – Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. The worst degenerative brain disease ever seen in someone his age, normally seen in players well into their 60’s.

The Aaron Hernandez story proves that a history of head injuries, whiplash and concussions are involved with significant brain degeneration at any age. We should be diligent in protecting our children, ourselves and our society from these ravaging head injuries.
His Erratic and Violent behavior was marked by other CTE signs like – problems with controlling impulses and aggression, some degree of DEMENTIA, mood swings, lapses in judgement, and a disorganized motivation, affect and manner.

Another significant finding highlights the damage to specific brain regions. Post-Mortem brain exam showed several striking abnormalities for a 27 year old, most notably the first here:

  • Tau Protein tangles in his frontal lobe. The area of reasoning, rationale, emotional stability and executive decision making: “Tau” tangles are deformed proteins in nerve cells, a result of poor replication/production by DNA. These protein tangles are a hallmark of Alzheimers and Dementia patients in their 80’s. Read our article about Dementia/Alzheimers here. Understand your risk of developing these diseases and how it’s all related.
  • Early brain atrophy – the kind seen in genetic disorders and brain damaged individuals
  • Large “perforations” in the center membrane of the brain seen in major brain infections or genetic disorders
Researchers at Boston University published research findings showing that adults who began playing football before the age of 12 years old developed more cognitive and behavioral problems later in life than those players who started tackle football after they reached that age. I can remember my experience playing football as a young man (thankful to have started after 12!) and the significant impact of blows to the head during tackling drills and practice. Multiple, repeated blows to the head, getting “stingers” through damage to the brachial plexus of the shoulder and neck, along with giving-receiving blows referred to as “slobberknockers”. This term referred to a highly sought after hit that would make a player literally spit up slobber and snot from the nose due to a significant impact to the head. These types of hits were encouraged and a sign of a well placed hit on the opponent. Those hits resulted in multiple concussions through the years. Awakening from one concussion, I recall the bright lights of the field initially, then came amplified sounds of coaches and players bickering around me, and all being processed over the loud ringing in my ears. Dizziness, confusion, fatigue, visual problems were all very real and hindering to my quality of life in the days that followed. These types of injuries to the head can have immediate impacts to the function of the brain. Luckily I recovered, like most people do after head injuries/concussions, and I was able to return to full function within a few days or a week. However, many people are not so fortunate continuing to experience all the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome.
Read about our cutting edge treatment protocols for post-concussion syndrome at the link above. Our state of the art diagnostic equipment and thorough neurological exam allow us to target the damaged areas for simple and complex rehabilitation procedures. Sometimes it’s as simple as a few 5 minute exercises for successful concussion treatment.
What happened to Aaron Hernandez, the 27 year old NFL player for the New England Patriots, was a notable case in point. This young man began having impacts to the head a young age playing as a teenager and later honored with an award in 2013 from Pop Warner – Inspiration to Youth Award. A talented and rising star athlete didn’t have a good reason to limit the blows to the head. They were “part of the game” that he was good at, a common occurrence that he experienced practically his whole life. Critical developmental years of the brain occur between 18 and 21 when the frontal lobes of the brain develop. If a person’s brain is constantly injured and trying to heal, there are no opportunities for the developing areas to form a fully connected cognitive system. This cognition is critical for the development of behavioral control and rational executive functioning of the motivation systems and the emotional control systems that should be hard-wired in human beings. Mr. Hernandez was unable to develop these areas and it showed in his decision making a few short years later in life.

Many NFL players show these signs later in life time after time. Research conducted on 100 NFL players showed brain scans that were marked by CTE in 99% cases. That’s a significant number and points to the inevitable reality that blows to the head and neck serve to damage critical networks of the brain in almost every case. To that end we should be looking for ways to detect and prevent these injuries from having life long impacts on the lives of those in our society. Our cultural love for high impact sports like this is having an impact on current and future generations.

Therapies exist for the rehabilitation of brain networks that will be critical to our athletes and every person who has experienced head injuries in their lifetime. Our therapies are being used successfully to reverse the damage of critical brain networks. For the adolescents in our lives, the sooner you treat a brain injury, the less damage that brain has in the coming years and decades following that event.