In recent years, dementia has received an increasing amount of coverage, with the result that most people now know at least a little about this condition. But dementia can come in many different forms, and one of the lesser-discussed ones is CTE – Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
What is CTE?
The Alzheimer’s Association defines Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) as “a brain condition associated with repeated blows to the head.” While this is most frequently associated with people who have engaged in heavy duty contact sports, such as boxing or football, or veterans who experienced combat duty, it can affect others who have had multiple concussions or head traumas in their lives.
Once called pugilistica dementia or punch-drunk syndrome, CTE is an emerging condition which is not yet fully understood by researchers and clinicians. It is associated with memory loss, confusion, personality disruptions, erratic (often aggressive) behavior, attention and organizational deficits, and balance and motor skill issues.
Although sometimes CTE may manifest relatively soon after receipt of repeated head injuries, in most cases the symptoms are likely to appear later — often many years later.
A Form of Dementia
Some people are surprised that CTE is considered a form of dementia — not because the symptoms are not similar but because the general cause — head trauma — seems dissimilar. In fact, researchers believe that CTE occurs due to a build-up of tau protein in the brain — which is also one of the primary markers of Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, some people with CTE also have beta-amyloid, another protein that is associated with Alzheimer’s. So there is more similarity than might first be noticed.
At this time, CTE is definitively diagnosed only after death, when an autopsy can be made on the brain. However, a diagnosis is inferred when a patient’s medical history and symptoms are consistent with what is known about CTE.
Individuals who suspect a loved one may be suffering from CTE should meet with a knowledgeable doctor to obtain a diagnostic opinion and to determine what course of treatment is most appropriate.