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Did Brain Injury Cause Athlete's Suicide?

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Boston, MAA traumatic brain injury can change a person's life in an instant. It can cause serious memory problems and personality changes, not to mention difficulties with impulse control. For many people, one brain injury is enough to do serious damage, but some athletes face repeated instances of traumatic brain injury, putting them at risk of serious health problems and, possibly, death.

The death of athlete Dave Duerson was a shock to some, all the more so because he committed suicide. Duerson, a former player for the Chicago Bears, shot himself in the chest in February 2011, leaving a note requesting his brain be given to the NFL's brain bank.

According to the Chicago Daily Herald (05/02/11), Duerson suffered 10 concussions in 11 years playing in the National Football League. Now, researchers from Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy have confirmed that Duerson had traumatic brain damage, resulting in problems with his short-term memory and impulse control.

One researcher remarked that if Duerson did not have a moderately advanced case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), he most likely would not have developed the health issues he had and may not have decided to end his life.

The Chicago Sun-Times (05/03/11) reports that the NFL has examined the brains of 15 former players and found CTE in 14 of them, reportedly leading to some concern about the health of players who face repeated brain injuries.

Although there is concern about NFL athletes and the potential problems they face with repeated concussions, some focus has been put on young athletes who play football and also run a risk of concussions and second-impact syndrome. Second-impact syndrome occurs in young athletes, whose brains are not fully developed. It happens when the athletes suffer a second concussion too soon after a first, while the brain is still healing. The effects of second-impact syndrome can be devastating and can result in death, even though the second impact does not have to be particularly severe. Even a minor second impact can cause a fatal brain injury.

Some states are developing rules regulating when young athletes can return to sports after suffering a brain injury. Coaches are being required to take courses so they can recognize the signs of a concussion. These moves, however, come too late for some young athletes who have already suffered debilitating brain injuries.

Unfortunately, according to USA Today (04/26/11), some states are still indifferent to laws designed to limit youth concussions. The newspaper notes that the indifference "borders on negligence," and reports that an average of 64,000 high school football players suffered concussions every year from 2005 through 2008. That indifference could put a young athlete at risk of permanent brain damage or death—all for the love of a sport.

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