Playing tackle football before age 12 can advance the start of CTE brain disease symptoms – by 2.5 years for each year played – among people who eventually develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a new study suggests.
The study from Boston University’s School of Medicine was detailed in the latest edition of the Annals of Neurology and was based on post-mortem analysis of the brains of 211 football players diagnosed with CTE, the Boston Herald reported.
Researchers at Boston University and the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System participated in the examination and analysis of the brains.
“Youth exposure to repetitive head impacts in tackle football may reduce one’s resiliency to brain diseases later in life, including, but not limited to CTE,” said Dr. Ann McKee, chief of Neuropathology at Boston VA Healthcare System, and director of Boston University’s CTE Center.
“It makes common sense that children, whose brains are rapidly developing, should not be hitting their heads hundreds of times per season,” McKee added.
Gregory Ransom told CBS News that he lost his 13-year-old son James a year ago, after he suffered a hit to the head while playing youth football as a lineman. After the hit, James Ransom suffered from short-term memory and vision loss and obsessive-compulsive disorder. After several suicide attempts, he took his own life, his parents said.
“I want parents, mothers and fathers, to know the science and to know what’s happening to their sons’ brains, because… if a mother knows what’s happening inside that helmet, she’s not going to let her son out on the football field,” the elder Ransom told CBS News.
Children exposed to tackle football at an earlier age appeared to have increased vulnerability to the effects of not just CTE but other brain diseases or conditions, said Michael Alosco, an assistant professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine.
“That is, it influences when cognitive, behavioral, and mood symptoms begin,” Alosco said in the statement. “It is comparable to research showing that children exposed to neurotoxins (e.g., lead) during critical periods of neurodevelopment can have earlier onset and more severe long-term neurological effects.”
“While participation in sports has important health and social benefits, it is important to consider contact and collision sports separately and balance those benefits against potential later life neurological risks,” he added.
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