Those at high risk of CTE are people who have experienced repeated concussive and sub concussive head impacts over a period of time.
Concussive head impacts are concussions.
Sub concussive impacts occur when your body movement causes your head to 'whip'.
CTE is a type of dementia in which many repeated injuries to a person’s head can lead to a loss of neurons and their connections over time. It is thought that brain vibration, inflammation, or a person’s genetic profile may play a role in the development of CTE dementia. Seemingly minor head knocks, called sub-concussions, as well as head knocks with symptoms, called concussions, are thought to increase the risk of developing CTE dementia. However, a single or low number of head knocks is unlikely to be a problem.
CTE has been found in boxing, football, competitive cycling and other types of contact or collision circumstances. However, it is recognised that CTE can be due to non-sporting contact, including explosions or blast trauma, violent assault, family and domestic violence, or frequent falls leading to head impacts. Those with epilepsy, frailty, or blindness may be at higher risk of falls.
There is no single test for CTE, however the likelihood of having CTE dementia is able to be identified by seeing a doctor and medical team qualified in the assessment of brain injury. The team may include neurologists, geriatricians, sports physicians, or rehabilitation specialists. Although there is no cure, prevention and care for those at risk of CTE is vital for good quality of life.
A wide range of symptoms can be experienced in CTE dementia. They are easily divided into thinking, mood, and behaviour changes. You or your loved one may recognise symptoms such as:
CTE is a preventable condition through the avoidance or minimisation of head injury. Good concussion management is likely to be an important aspect of preventative care.
Following guidelines, protocols, and expert opinion after a concussion is one way to assist. You may choose to contact your sporting club or workplace administration to discuss ways you can minimise head injury.
Finally, remember that sport has many benefits for vascular health and the reduction in vascular dementia risk, as well as other health benefits. People should carefully consider their options before modifying their sports participation.
It is a good idea to seek help early if you have concerns about CTE dementia. A memory check with your doctor is a simple way to start. Other conditions resulting from head injury, such as post-concussion syndrome and migraine headache, can often be detected.
From there, referral to specialists in CTE can be made, and tests like MRI brain scans and cognitive screening can be arranged. Sometimes there may be two or more causes of dementia identified in the one individual. Often your specialist may choose to watch your progress over time in order to assess how stable your symptoms are.
For those with thinking, mood, or behaviour changes due to other reasons, a specific evidence-based plan addressing any reversible factors will help ensure wellbeing in the longer term.
Avoid things that may worsen cognition, including alcohol and smoking. Sleep may be affected in head injury, and poor sleep may worsen thinking difficulties. Obtaining a laboratory sleep assessment if indicated, and treating conditions such as obstructive sleep apnoea, is a positive step to take.
Having a general practitioner who can coordinate care is part of good CTE dementia management.