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Can chronic traumatic encephalopathy affect non-athletes?

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy has made major news in the last few years, thanks to the controversy and legal wrangling that evolved from a 2011 lawsuit with a few dozen plaintiffs—all former football players—into a class-action lawsuit that stands to benefit more than 20,000 former National Football League players and/or their families.

But CTE doesn't just affect athletes like football players, boxers and professional wrestlers, all of whom take repeated blows to the head over the course of their careers. There are plenty of other occupations that can set the stage for the same sort of devastating brain injuries.

For example, nurses who specialize in working with the mentally ill may be repeatedly exposed to blows to the head by patients that are having episodes of decompensation. Teachers who work with severely mentally-disabled children and teens who self-injure or strike out at others when they are frustrated could frequently take minor knocks to their heads as they try to calm and comfort an out-of-control child. Construction workers can get head injuries from falls, someone dropping a tool from above them, being banged into by moving equipment or materials and so on,

It's important to note that victims of CTE can start manifesting symptoms years after the last blow to the head and that a definitive diagnosis can only be done through an autopsy. Instead, diagnosis is usually based on a constellation of symptoms and a review of the patient's medical and occupational history for clues.

A history of concussions, for example, combined with symptoms like memory loss, impulse control problems, depression, agitation, motor control problems, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, confusion and progressive dementia could lead to the diagnosis of CTE.

But someone doesn't necessarily have to have a history of concussions—which is a blow to the head that causes symptoms like vomiting, sensitivity to light or sound, blurred vision, headaches, balance problems or a loss of consciousness—to develop CTE, either. Many of the people who are believed to have CTE developed it after repeated head blows that they simply "shook off" and kept on going, not realizing the potential for long-term damage.

If you or a loved one may be suffering from a brain injury like chronic traumatic encephalopathy that you believe is occupation-related, consider contacting an attorney to discuss the possibility of a case.

Source: Psychiatry Neuroimaging Laboratory: Leading The Way To Brain Discovery, "Chronic Traumatic Encephlopathy," accessed Dec. 20, 2016

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