Healthy Living: Repeated blows to head linked to NFL players' brain damage, study finds
A new study shows that multiple blows to the head may predispose football players to dementia and depression, possibly leading to suicide. Cheryl Wills has the story.
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For far too many football players, suicide is seen as the only way out. Over the last couple of years, six NFL stars have killed themselves and a new study may shed some light.
Research in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that multiple blows to the head may predispose retired athletes to depression.
The study coincides with news that retired linebacker Junior Seau suffered from brain damage when he fatally shot himself in the chest last May.
He was only 43 years old and didn't realize he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Dr. Steven Mandel is a neurologist with Lenox Hill Hospital and an expert on sports related injuries.
"Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is a condition caused by repeated blows to the head," Mandel said. "It may result in initial personality changes."
Many neurologists believe repeated concussions could also lead to suicidal impulses.
Dave Duerson, who briefly played for the Giants, shot himself to death a few days after Valentine's Day in 2011. In a final text to his family he willed his brain to science for research.
Just weeks later, doctors discovered that the 50 year old pro bowler suffered from a neurodegenerative disease linked to multiple concussions.
Mandel says he is not surprised that NFL players are at risk for brain damage.
"They may have pathological changes and damage to the brain that we're not aware of because nobody is studying their brain until it is too late," Mandel said.
The study focused on retired NFL veterans, but the negative health effects are by no means exclusive to retirees.
It's widely believed that Kansas City Chiefs star Jovan Belcher, who was raised in a New York City suburb, suffered multiple concussions during his short career.
The linebacker was only 25 when he killed himself and his girlfriend last December.
Doctors say multiple concussions are also links to dementia and a host of other problems.
It's led the NFL to take the matter more seriously in recent years and NFL players, both active and retired, are encouraged to take charge of their own health.