Retirement Could Reverse Brain Trauma for Boxers and MMA Fighters

A doctor examines a brain scan showing trauma

A new study shows that Boxers and MMA fighters who suffer brain damage due to head trauma during their careers may see their cognitive skills and brain structure recover after retirement.

The new research was conducted by scientists at the Cleveland Clinic. They found that retired fighters tested better on verbal memory, executive functioning, and motor speed two years after ending their careers. Their brain thickened as well, specifically in areas that control emotion, memory, and executive functions.

What the Brain Trauma Research Shows

These findings have wide-reaching impacts, not only for athletes but also anyone who has suffered injury as a result of repeated head trauma. This vital research shows that conditions like chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is known to affect different athletes, including football and hockey players, can be slowed or potentially even reversed before they become much more serious. Statistics show that 6% of Americans suffer from some form of CTE.

As part of this recent research, scientists found that retired boxers and MMA fighters often had better processing speeds, memories, and reaction times at the end of the three-year study period, while active fighters scored the same or worse over time. Researchers, who published their findings in the journal Neurology, gathered data from 90 boxers, mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters, and martial artists. Half of the sample group had not competed in two years serving as the “retirees” in the study. The other half consisted of active fighters.

What is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)?

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE is a degenerative brain disease that is caused by repeated trauma to the head and brain. Over a period of time, these strikes could result in the accumulation of tau protein around the brain. In turn, this could cause symptoms such as confusion, depression, or dementia. A number of retired football players have succumbed to this condition, and many have blamed the brain trauma suffered through sports.

CTE is a condition that can be diagnosed only after the individual’s death. Hundreds of former athletes and military veterans have pledged to donate their brains to the Concussion Legacy Foundation for CTE research. There have been several reports of NFL players who experienced behavioral issues and serious mental health problems. Several notable players, such as Junior Seau and Aaron Hernandez, who died by suicide, were posthumously diagnosed with CTE.

Many researchers also now believe that sub-concussive hits also play a major part in CTE. A sub-concussive head impact is a bump, blow or jolt to the head that does not produce symptoms. These are different from concussions, which do cause symptoms. A collision while playing sports is one way a person can get a sub-concussive head impact. A 2017 study found that 99% of former NFL players who believed they were suffering cognitive symptoms before their death were suffering from CTE. Brain damage from CTE could also result in severe memory loss, mood swings, and confusion. In most serious cases, a person suffering from CTE will have their condition develop into Parkinson’s.

Support for Those Living With CTE

If you are concerned that you or someone you love has CTE, it is important to understand that you are not alone. There is help available. Many symptoms of CTE are treatable. Resources are available to help patients find support and live a full life. CTE is challenging, but there are tools and resources available.

Here are a few tips from health professionals for those with CTE symptoms:

Write things down. If you have concerns about memory loss, it can help to write things down so you can be more productive and maintain a sense of control over your life. This could be a notebook, voice memos, or calendar reminders on your phone. Any of these aids can help.

Develop a routine. When you create a structured environment for yourself, such as a list of tasks to complete, it can help create a sense of comfort and security. It can help you manage your daily life a lot better.

Keep impulses in check. A number of studies show that CTE could damage parts of the brain that regulate impulsive behaviors. It is important to be aware of unhealthy behaviors such as alcohol and/or drug use, gambling, shopping, etc. If you feel like you are over-indulging in any type of activity, seek professional help right away.

Manage your emotions and stress levels. This is a very important skill, which could be acquired. Practice relaxation techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, or deep breathing. Seek counseling to determine what methods might work best for you.

Build a support system. Reach out to friends or family members you can trust through challenging times. A church community, a hobby or sports club, or a crisis hotline such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can all serve as valuable sources of support. If you are worried about your safety in a moment of crisis, you can make a safety plan to guide you through those particularly difficult moments.

Brain Injury Lawsuits

There has already been a huge number of brain injury lawsuits involving former athletes, some of which have been settled for hundreds of millions of dollars.

If you or a loved one has experienced a traumatic brain injury as the result of someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing, or failure to act, it is important that you reach out to an experienced brain injury lawyer who can help you evaluate your legal rights and options.

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