He was a football player since college. He later made it to the NFL, and was the proud owner of two Super Bowl rings. After the rush of the game, however, he would often come home with constant headaches and suffered multiple concussions. After his NFL career, he began to suffer from dementia, depression, memory problems and searing pains on the left side of his head. After sending a text message and leaving a note asking that his brain be studied, David Duerson committed suicide on Feb. 17.
Duerson was not the first professional athlete to suffer from severe neurological problems. Several former NFL players have experienced symptoms identical to or worse than Duerson’s. After several studies of former contact and collision sports players, researchers have developed a shocking yet extremely probable theory: multiple concussions (especially several simultaneous concussions) may lead to degenerative brain disorders.
Symptoms of such were Duerson’s: memory problems, dementia/anxiety, serious headaches and severe depression. In fact, many scientists believe that Duerson’s depression may have been what led him to take his own life.
Although not fully understood by neurologists, cumulative effects of multiple concussions can range from minor to severe. Long-term effects may include psychiatric disorders and amnesia or loss of long-term memory. Other numerous brain disorders have been associated with multiple blows to the head. Some of these include second-impact syndrome, dementia pugilistica (also known as “punch-drunk syndrome”), and the more commonly known chronic encephalopathy.
However, a smaller yet more surprising study was performed at Boston University Medical Center. Neurosurgeon Bob Cantu and colleagues examined the brains and spinal cords of 12 former athletes who had sustained multiple concussions, some even more than 10 serious head injuries. One fourth of these athletes had been diagnosed with ALS before their deaths. However, scientists have concluded that although similar and harmful proteins
of those found in patients with ALS were present, the disease endured by these athletes was not the “classic” ALS.
Nevertheless, other serious degenerative brain disorders have been found in multiple-concussion-suffering athletes. Several earlier studies have shown that people, especially teens and young adults, who have suffered numerous traumatic head injuries, have a much higher susceptibility of developing Parkinson’s disease (think of Muhammad Ali). Another earlier studied showed that teens/young adults who suffered at least three or more concussions had more than a five times greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Dave Duerson and several athletes like him suffered many serious concussions, and many, including Duerson, were diagnosed with brain disorders. Countless studies have shown that numerous concussions can lead to serious neurological disorders, which can develop years after the injuries occurred. These new studies may lead to a breakthrough in how neurologists deal with concussions, and will most likely lead to new safety polices in contact sports as well.