What happens to the human brain when it takes a beating has become a scientific question of pressing urgency for professional football team owners, parents of young athletes — and also the U.S. military, which funded an intriguing study just published by researchers at Sarasota’s Roskamp Institute.
This is an area of neurology that has been driving changes on playing fields as well as battlegrounds. First came a general awareness that the condition once described as “punch-drunk” — suffering cognitive loss from the cumulative effect of repeated blows to the head — might be responsible for far more instances of age-related dementia than the public had previously imagined.
Then, as the National Football League and others poured money into studies, scientists’ understanding of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, expanded. A single moderate to severe blow, autopsies suggested, could also increase the risk of dementia. And even mild concussions, if repeated before the brain has a chance to fully heal, can do lasting damage to the delicate tissues inside the human skull.