Awareness of chronic traumatic encephalopathy is on the rise, especially after BMX star Dave Mirra was posthumously diagnosed with the degenerative brain disease Tuesday. His family had his brain tested after he apparently committed suicide by gunshot Feb. 4. He was 41 years old.
CTE develops in people who have a history of repetitive brain trauma, which is why it’s seen in boxers, football and hockey players, BU.edu wrote. It can also be found in military veterans, ConcussionFoundation.org noted.
CTE was known since the 1920s, when boxers were widely affected. At the time, it was called dementia pugilistica, ProtectTheBrain.org says, or “punch drunk syndrome.” The name CTE came in during the 1960s.
Mirra is the first extreme sports athlete to get a CTE diagnosis, which can be confirmed only after death. A build-up of tau, which is abnormal protein, will be found in someone who has CTE. It can start to build up over months, years or even decades as the disease progresses. Tau slowly kills brain cells.
People who have CTE suffer from Alzheimer-like symptoms: rage, paranoia, depression, impulse control problems, memory loss, confusion and impaired judgment.
As documented in the 2015 movie “Concussion,” CTE was not diagnosed in football players until 2002. It was Drs. Bennet Omalu and Julian Bailes of the Brain Injury Research Institute who made the find in former Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster.
Before Mirra, the cases of athletes like Webster, Dave Duerson and Junior Seau helped raise awareness of CTE. Mirra’s widow, Lauren Blackwell, talked about awareness of the degenerative brain disease in a statement Tuesday.
“We would like to thank our family, friends and the overwhelming number of Dave’s fans who have supported us during this difficult time,” she said. “We ask for your continued support in honoring Dave’s legacy and for your patience as we plan to create a platform for CTE awareness and research."
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