Case Report: Former Football Player’s Cognitive Symptoms Improved After Study Revealed Alternative Diagnosis and Treatment
After receiving treatment for hydrocephalus, the former professional athlete regained cognitive functioning, illustrating the importance of taking a comprehensive approach when addressing health concerns among athletes
Football players who have had repetitive head trauma and concussion are at heightened risk for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), an irreversible condition that leads to dementia. But not every case of cognitive decline means CTE, as illustrated by a new case study published by researchers from Mass General Brigham in Current Sports Medicine Reports.
In the publication, Adam Tenforde, MD, a physician in Mass General Brigham’s sports medicine program and medical director of the Spaulding National Running Center, co-authored a study that described the case of a 54-year-old former professional football player who was suffering from life-altering cognitive, behavioral and personality changes when he enrolled in the Harvard Football Players Health Study. As part of the study, which comprehensively assesses each participants’ health over the course of a three-day study visit, the participant received a brain MRI. The MRI revealed signs of hydrocephalus — swelling in the brain that can be treated and reversed. After receiving treatment, the participant experienced improvements in mood and cognition.
“We see with this case report that it’s important to always be curious as to why an individual experiences a change in function,” said Tenforde. “There can be unconscious bias in how we approach former and current athletes, and those biases can affect care. Providers might assume a decline in cognition is indicative of a diagnosis or condition that is untreatable. But one of the key findings from our work on this ongoing study is that when we take a more comprehensive approach, we may find alternative explanations and a treatable diagnosis.”
Paper cited: Dairi I et al. “Reversible cognitive decline in a former American-style football player” Current Sports Medicine Reports DOI: 10.1249/JSR.0000000000001061
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