CTE and 'Sled Head' and Women's Brains Are Being Investigated

December 08, 2020, Kitchener, Ontario

Posted by: Robert Deutschmann, Personal Injury Lawyer

Four Person Riding on Snow MobileThere has been more news about professional and high-level amateur athletes and traumatic brain injury again. From team Canada’s Erin Ambrose’s decision to donate her brain for concussion research, to reports of the Canadian Olympics skeleton team’s suicides it appears we need to worry about more sports than we initially thought.

Erin Ambrose is a former Les Canadiennes blueliner who has joined a growing list of female hockey players to donate their brains to research. This is a growing effort to reduce the gender gap that exists in the research of the impacts of repetitive brain damage to female brains.

Ms. Ambrose had four diagnosed concussions in her career and has struggled with depression and anxiety for over a decade. Her announcement joins those of other high-profile female athletes like Hayley Wickenheiser, Angela Ruggerio and Brandi Chastain. The CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) Center at Boston University’s brain bank has collected almost 1000 brains examining them to determine how and why concussion leads to CTE. Only 19 come from women though and there is a significant known difference between men and women and their susceptibility to concussion. It’s hoped that these donations will begin to shed light on lesser-known processes.

Women have a higher risk of injury and a more negative prognosis with concussion and TBI. More female brains are being solicited to the centre for women with a history of concussion. These could be from domestic abuse, sport or military-related concussions, and could help with the long term treatment, diagnosis and prevention of disease progression.

We now know that CTE which is a progressive degenerative brain condition presents in individuals with repeated concussion and leads to early brain deterioration, mental and emotional health decline, cognitive issues, and substance abuse problems. CTE is a terminal condition and can only be diagnosed after death when the brain is examined.

It has also been reported that the risk of CTE and long-term brain damage is now suspected in the sport of Skeleton. In skeleton, a competitor races headfirst down a sled run on a twisting track at extreme speeds. The ride is treacherous and mistakes end in tragedy. The athletes have only a few days to practice a track before a race and run it repeatedly for days on end.

In the case of the 2010 Olympics in Whistler, the Canadian women’s team reported running the track up to 11 times a day. At the end of training sessions, they reported feeling foggy, scrambled, sensitive to light and sound, headaches and had trouble putting sentences together. These are all classic signs of concussion.

These women now form part of a long-term study on how sliding sports and the micro concussions suffered are connected to the long term. The condition is known as ‘sled head’ and was until recently accepted as part of the sport. Since 2013, three former elite  North American sledders who struggled with depression and other symptoms have committed suicide and another was saved from an attempt. Two others have died of overdoses. This is is a high number given the small cohort of athletes that compete in these sports at this level. Many now wonder how the micro concussions play into these suicides and attempted suicides.
Coaches and athletes are following the studies closely in an attempt to revise concussion protocols and to keep the athletes and the sport safe. Some people within the sport are reportedly concerned that the sport will be ‘ruined’ by changes that encourage safety over speed and daring. You can read more about concussions in sledding sports and ‘sled head’ in Frontiers in Neurology.


Posted under Accident Benefit News, Brain Injury, Concussion Syndrome, PTSD, concussion, traumatic brain injury

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