In athletes, multiple concussions during sports-careers may lead to permanent neurological deficits and possible repetitive traumatic encephalopathy. In general, subtle neurological deficits may occur in athletes that have suffered one or two concussions. The symptoms are similar to people with early stage dementia. The athletes are functional, can continue to play or have post-sport careers. The subtle deficits do not interfere with quality of life to a significant degree. The differences are noted when compared to individuals that have not suffered concussions and are matched for physical condition, co-morbidities and age.
Repetitive (chronic) traumatic encephalopathy has more severe consequences and may shorten a victim’s life span. This phenomenon may occur when an athlete has suffered more than two concussions and the effects are cumulative. This condition is a severe degenerative disease with brain atrophy, functional decline, behavioral problems and mood alterations. Some people with chronic traumatic encephalopathy struggle with alcohol abuse, substance abuse problems and severe depression. Symptoms also include history of recent or multiple concussions with headaches, dizziness, nausea and emotional swings.
The brain damage found in football players is similar to that found in boxers and soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. The neurological findings are similar to Alzheimer’s disease.