Concussions in sports have always been a major concern and its long-lasting effects worrisome for athletes and their families. A former quarterback recently revealed his struggles with having to deal with the effects of the numerous concussions he suffered during his career as a player. He is now forced to seek treatment for short-term memory loss and hand-eye coordination. He is one of many quarterbacks who have had to succumb to concussions during their careers in the NFL.
Many football players have had to endure post-concussion syndrome. The suggestion that concussions contribute to a ‘footballer’s dementia’ is widely debated even though there seems to be a correlation between the cause of deaths of former NFL players and the fact that they had all suffered from head trauma during their career. A former football player, who died of a heart attack at age 50, had exhibited symptoms of depression, memory loss, and Parkinson’s disease according to statements made by family members. An autopsy revealed brain damage that may have led to his dementia.
Similar brain damage and mental problems have been linked to the suicides of former NFL players. They had been suffering from severe depression and abnormal behavior. Findings from a study of the brains of dead NFL athletes have found lasting damage to their brains after having received concussions. This damage can also lead to a variety of other health issues. Many concussions may be under-diagnosed as athletes try to cover up their injuries to remain in the game. These symptoms usually go away without the need for treatment, but with successive injuries, the cumulative effects are more severe and changes in neurophysiology can occur after three or more concussions.
It’s not clear whether athletes have longer recovery times after repeat concussions and whether cumulative effects such as impairment in cognition and memory occur. In post-concussion syndrome, symptoms don’t fade away for weeks, months, or years after suffering a concussion. It may be permanent with ongoing headaches, dizziness, fatigue, anxiety, memory and attention problems, trouble sleeping, and irritability. A 2009 study found that individuals with a history of concussions demonstrated a decline in both physical and mental performance for longer than 30 years.
The risk of developing clinical depression has been found to be greater for retired football players with a history of several concussions than those without a history. The cumulative effects can not only lead to psychiatric disorders and loss of long-term memory but can also increase the chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease earlier in life. Although concussions more commonly occur in sports like American football and boxing, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that at least 300,000 sports-related concussions occur yearly in the U.S.
Preventing concussions in the NFL is a challenging problem. Even though players can expect monetary fines if they make illegal hits, it most likely won’t deter a player from trying to intimidate his opponents by head-down tackling or “spearing” them with helmet-to-helmet assaults. Rule changes and practices are frowned upon by athletes and coaches who don’t want to play under new, more careful restrictions.
Much like the spectators in the arenas of ancient Rome, the fans must have their gladiators. Despite the danger of injury or even death, the fight must go on in all its bloody brutality. That’s the price for glory.