“There are a lot of reasons people commit suicide and commit murder,” said David Hovda, director of the UCLA Brain Injury Research Center. He questions the semantics behind defining CTE on the behavior alone. “I’m not sure we can tag CTE onto this.”
Seventeen of the study participants including athletes and military members showed no signs of CTE. However, Nowinksi noted that many of them may have experienced less severe injuries or were not exposed to repetitive blows.
“The good news is it’s clear that a couple of concussions doesn’t always lead to CTE and we hope it’s rare,” Nowinski said. “However, when you get to the people in the database who took more than ten years of repetitive brain trauma, nearly all of them have CTE.”
The study reported that CTE can spread over time throughout several parts of the brain and into the spinal cord.
“Early on, it only involves very discrete small lesions around the brain and as it progresses, more and more brain tissue gets destroyed,” Stern said. “It is only in the more severe stages that we see full-blown dementia.
CTE symptoms become even more debilitating as it progresses through stages. For example, in Stage 1 a person may experience severe headaches and have trouble concentrating. When a person reaches Stage 4 the anger and aggression problems become more apparent.
Although there is no easy explanation for this weekend’s tragedy, there is widespread understanding about the toll head traumas can take on a person.
“It is wrong to focus on the suicides,” said Nowinski. “The takeaway should be that brain trauma can unlock the door to a whole lot of terrible things and we have a lot of work ahead of us to both learn how to treat (CTE) and to prevent it in the next generation.”