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Additional evidence of cumulative brain injury from the NFL

The New York Times reported this week that brain damage commonly associated with boxers has been found in the brain of a sixth deceased former NFL football player under age 50.  Doctors at Boston University School of Medicine identified chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the brain of Tom McHale who died at age 45 and played pro ball for nine seasons. This condition can be identified only on autopsy and has been found in each of the former pro ballplayers who have died under the age of 50 and been tested. 

McHale's widow described a general decline in McHale's physical and emotional health that started with severe chronic pain and ultimately lead to drug abuse.  (Researchers affirmed that CTE cannot be caused by drug abuse.)  Dr. McKee who co-directed the Boston University research pointed out that "you would expect the symptoms of lack of insight, poor judgment, decreased concentration and attention, inability to multitask and memory problems" in a patient with the degree of damage found in McHale's autopsy, although neither his wife nor his teammates could recall evidence of a severe concussion he had suffered.  The doctors suggested that CTE probably played a significant role in the other health problems he developed as the disease progressed.

NFL physicians suggested that no meaningful conclusions could be drawn from the information until it was published in a peer-reviewed format.  The NFL began its own study of retired players in 2007, but does not expect to publish any data or conclusions until 2011 or 2012.  It maintains that there is no evidence of long-term damage resulting from cumulative concussions or brain injuries "if they are properly managed".  "Independent" physicians who conduct defense medical examinations for insurers defending cases brought by victims of traumatic brain injury often make the same argument about the transient impact of concussions or closed head injuries.  Neuropathologists in the medical community appear to be reaching a contrary conclusion.

Physicians commenting on the new evidence included Dr. Daniel L. Perl, director of neuropathology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York and Dr. Ann C. McKee of Boston University.

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