They played their hearts out on the NFL gridiron; however, it’s their heads that are now feeling the impact. The new “Concussion” movie, starring Will Smith, will shed immense light on the disease process known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a disease stemming, in part, from repeated head injury. Currently, the diagnosis can only be made at autopsy. But while millions of dollars have gone into diagnosis, more needs to be done to advance treatment for individuals currently living with CTE-like symptoms. Even decades after their playing career is over, it is well-documented that repeated head trauma may lead to changes in behavior, mood, attention, executive function, emotion and may even progress to neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s or ALS later in life.
Recently, local Functional Medicine clinic Carolina HealthSpan Institute joined forces with ten other clinics nationwide to bring help to former NFL players with declining brain function. The goal is to provide a comprehensive Neurocognitive evaluation, including functional brain imaging and neurocognitive testing to 100+ former NFL players who may be experiencing brain changes as a result of concussions they received during their NFL careers. Players who are diagnosed with Mild or Major Neurocognitive Disorder via head trauma will have the opportunity to receive a new treatment that can potentially improve brain function and reduce concussion related symptoms. The treatment is a specialized form of Neurofeedback, and it uses each player’s own brainwaves to exercise the brain directly, helping it to reorganize and rebalance. Think about it like fitness training for the brain. This new treatment was highly effective in a recent pilot study of 9 former players who were having symptoms related to their concussion experience in the NFL. “All 9 players treated demonstrated significant clinical improvements.” Says Dr. George Rozelle of Sarasota, FL, who was lead clinician on the pilot study. “The players who have been re-evaluated at a one-year follow-up, show their improvements are holding.”
Carolina HealthSpan Institute uses this technology, along with other modalities of Neurofeedback and medical therapies to help individuals of all ages improve brain function, regain emotional and behavioral control, and in many cases, get their lives back on track. While symptoms from a single mild concussion usually dissipate after one week, a qEEG, or functional “brain map” can detect dysregulaion in EEG patterns up to four months after injury. The impact of multiple concussions can be evident in these brain maps years or even decades later. Post-concussion symptoms can be correlated to abnormalities in the imaging and targeted treatment can be designed for each patient’s unique pattern of injury. As treatment progresses, a patient’s brain map should progressively move towards normal.
The doors have been open to former NFL players for screening and qualification since September in Charlotte. Fox46 even did a special about the treatment on November 23rd focusing on a local Hall-Of-Fame player. Treatment is underway and former players involved in the study are showing major signs of improvement. “Many of the former players are exhibiting classic symptoms of neurocognitive disorder such as memory impairment, sleep issues, difficulty with emotional control and difficulty with problem solving and executive function,” said Dr. Ronald Brown, Chief Medical Officer of Carolina HealthSpan Institute. “We are not sure what the future of CTE research will bring, but we are not going to sit on the sidelines and watch the decline when we can intervene now to improve these guy’s quality of life.”
Currently, the NFL nor the NFLPA provide financial assistance to players who wish to be evaluated for concussion-related Neurocognitive Disorder. There are programs set in place however, such as The 88 Plan that can pay for concussion related medical expenses, and the NFLPA’s Player Care Foundation which can help with hardships. These programs may not cover all who need treatment, and can take some time for approval.
There is a large population of former NFL players living in the Charlotte area who may benefit from these services. Individuals who wish to support the effort to identify and treat these players are encouraged to call Carolina HealthSpan Institute at 704-333-4817.