The Earliest Signs of Brain Damage in Athletes? Listen for Them

Researchers tracked the words that a group of players, coaches and executives spoke spontaneously in 10,000 interviews and news conferences from 2007 to 2015.
BRENDAN MCDERMID / REUTERS

By LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN, M.D.

MAY 29, 2017

Evidence continues to mount that professional athletes in a number of contact sports are suffering brain damage as a result of head impacts. But there is no reliable test to detect the injury, called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, in its earliest stages.
Even if a doctor strongly suspects that an athlete’s confusion or memory loss is related to C.T.E., proof can only be obtained on autopsy.
Now a small study of National Football League players suggests another possibility: that the signs of C.T.E. may be found with a low-cost, noninvasive test that tracks changes in conversational language years before symptoms appear.
If it works, the linguistic test also would be valuable in assessing the effectiveness of treatments to prevent cognitive damage because of C.T.E. or to slow its progression.

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