Linguistic Link Found between Blunt Head Injuries and CTE

Brain Injury
Football and CTE

By Lynn Shapiro, Staff Writer

Scientists studying football players and athletes playing soccer and rugby have long suspected that chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E), a degenerative brain disease, predisposes these players to Parkinson’s disease and other forms of lethal dementia, but there was no hard evidence to support this claim, except by autopsy.

Now, a study published last week in the journal Brain and Language, researchers at Arizona State University used a novel design to separate C.T.E. from other forms of brain disease.

“Researchers at Arizona State University found a steeper decline in vocabulary size and other verbal skills in 10 players who spoke at news conferences during an eight-year period, compared with 18 coaches and executives who had never played professional football and who spoke in news conferences during the same period,” The New York Times reported.

Two Measures of Verbal Ability

Dr. Visar Berisha, lead author of the Arizona State study and his colleagues used these two measures of verbal ability to diagnose C.T.E.

  • One was the ratio of the number of verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs and adverbs to the total number of words spoken.
  • The other was a ratio of the number of distinct words a player or coach used in interviews to the total number of words spoken.

The athletes were significantly more likely to show signs of verbal deterioration than the control group, the study found.

Dr. Barista’s team is planning a larger study at Arizona State University of football, hockey and soccer players.

Athletes will use an app on their phones to deliver speech samples during their pre-season practices, and also during their playing seasons.

The researchers also will record any concussions the players suffer during playing season.

Dr. Berisha told The New York Times he was also “working with industry and several clinics nationally to evaluate its measures on a large scale.”

Linguistic tests could also help evaluate head injuries among military personal, domestic abuse victims, and those in car and motorcycle accidents.

Reagan May Have Had CTE

In 2015, Dr. Berisha’s team found that President Ronald Regan’s speaking patterns during news conferences pointed to the onset of dementia, according to the New York Times.

Reagan won a partial football scholarship and played from 1928-1932 at Eureka College in the days when minimally protective leather headgear was the norm.

His symptoms were pronounced years before doctors gave him the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease in 1994, says Dr. Berisha. He added these “subtle changes” in speech did not necessarily impair his judgment and ability to make decisions while President.

What About Donald Trump's Decline in Vocabulary and Language Skills?

All of this research comes at a time when our current President seems unable to speak in complete sentences. An interesting article from STAT analyzed Donald Trump's speech in recorded interviews over 30 years and noticed a clear change in his speech patterns that may indicate a cognitive decline. The question is whether President Trump is suffering from a neurological condition or disease.

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