Sunday, February 20, 2011

Suicide, Brains, and Football

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In yesterday's New York Times, Alan Schwarz wrote about the tragic suicide of football player Dave Duerson this past week. Schwarz notes that prior to shooting himself, Duerson texted family members that he wanted his brain examined for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a condition we've discussed before in our post Brains, Behavior, and Football.

Schwarz writes:

Doctors, N.F.L. officials and even many players denied or discredited the links between football and such brain damage for months or even years. The roughly 20 cases of C.T.E. that have been identified by groups at Boston University and West Virginia University were almost always men who had died — most with significant emotional or cognitive problems — with no knowledge of the disease. Now, for the first time he knows of, Stern said, a former player has killed himself with the specific request that his brain be examined.

I'm left to wonder, did this former football player have this problem? Sometimes depression alone causes memory problems and sometimes people with depression worry that they have Alzheimer's disease, or any number of other illnesses for that matter. Treating the depression may help the memory problems, and may alleviate the fears of other illnesses. And we don't know much about the Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy induced by repeated head injuries: is the course of the dementia altered by early intervention with medications? Does the depression respond to the usual treatments for mood disorders? Could Mr. Duerson have been saved, at least for a while?

Here's an article on the treatment of chronic brain injury with hyperbaric oxygen in animal models:

And here's an emedicine article on treatments for repetitive brain injuries (not necessarily specific to CTE) with medicine recommendations, but no mention of antidepressants or medicines to slow the course of dementia:

Here's a medscape article on CTE and dementia:

And, finally, here's a shout out to my friend and med school classmate Robert Morrison, M.D., Ph.D. whose paper for our public health class was published in JAMA back in 1986 as a state of the art review of boxing and brain injury:

Is it worth it in the name of sports?

Could I ask a huge favor of the next football player who considers suicide? Instead of completing the act, could you have your depression treated and then write about the results? It would be an enormous contribution. Sure, it would be an anecdote, and not a controlled trial, but perhaps it would add something to the field. And we'd be happy to publish your story here on Shrink Rap.

My heart goes out to the family of Dave Duerson.