Saturday, February 27, 2016

Boxers And Brain Injuries

Boxer Muhammad Ali and his equally handsome grandson in a Louis Vuitton ad

The very nature of boxing often entails fighters trading punches and usually to the head. However, as with other contact sports such as American football, athletes have learned head injuries can have a long lasting impact on their health and life. The medical term Encephalopathy was coined to cover a spectrum of conditions that can be classified as brain disease.

A wave of American football players began suffering brain disorders that resembled Alzheimer's and Parkinsons due to constant blows to the head resulting in concussions. The symptoms include memory loss, tremors, diminished cognitive ability, confusion, difficulty concentration, seizures, mood swings, depression, dementia and suicidality.

Muhamad Ali and another beloved star, actor Michael J. Fox, both have Parkinsons. My theory is the constant blows to the head Ali sustained in his storied boxing career and an injury Fox sustained on the set of the "Back To The Future" film, where his head was caught in a prop, initiated Parkinsons in them (head injuries/brain injuries).  

While the focus of the mental condition has largely been on American football players, boxers are also in danger of developing encephalopathy and need to be monitored and if necessary treated for the medical condition. A number of boxers have reported symptoms that carry some of the traits of encephalopathy. 

While some boxers pride themselves on being able to take punishment in the ring, the style of hit and don't get hit is the better, healthier option. A shorter number of rounds, as opposed to 12, is also better (in the United Kingdom the standard fight has 8 rounds). On the whole, modern referees have become far more cautious and willing to stop fights when they are of the belief a fighter is in mortal danger or a serious health problem is about to occur. Some boxers do not like their fights being stopped over injuries they personally do not deem significant, but referees are erring on the side of caution.

For years boxer Frank Bruno had struggled with depression and related issues, after sustaining blows to the head during the course of his career. He became suicidal 13-years ago and was admitted to a hospital for mental health treatment. He retired from boxing at age 34. Bruno is now 54 and seeks to make a boxing comeback, which is inadvisable, as it could exacerbate his depression and any underlying medical conditions related to the brain. I have wondered if Bruno is struggling with the beginning stages of brain disease due to some of his symptoms. However, I hope not. Nonetheless, he must continue to stick to an appropriate and effective treatment plan for his depression.

As stated in the January 22, 2014 article How To Reap The Benefits Of Boxing While Avoiding The Pitfalls: "The brain is delicate. It is a part of the human body that does not easily withstand injury. I am of the belief head injuries sustained in combat, accidents and sports, as well as brain hemorrhages (aneurysm or stroke) greatly increases the risk of developing Parkinsons or Alzheimer’s. People with the aforementioned injuries are more prone to depression and regrettably suicide. It’s crucial that one recognizes the signs of depression early and seek medical treatment and therapy to ward off its effects. 

Brain injury leads the body to release distress chemicals that triggers feelings of sadness, confusion, doubt and depression. Basically, it’s a distress signal. Your body telling you there’s a problem. Athletes in contact sports are more prone to depression. Head injuries some boxers sustain contribute to depression. This sometimes leads to drug use, such as cocaine, in failed attempts at feeling better. So, protect your head as best you can."