A few weeks ago, Leicester rugby player Dominic Ryan announced his retirement from the game at just 28 years of age. The reason? The damage that years of hard tackles and concussion had done to his brain. It’s a familiar story to Dr Daniel Amen who has treated many National Football League (NFL) players in the course of his career. His functional imaging SPECT scans measure blood flow to the brain and, he says, clearly identify the physical damage that head injuries — even without concussion — cause to the brain. His findings are supported by a study carried out by the Mayo Clinic that found that 32pc of men who played contact sports, even at amateur level, had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) or what’s known as ‘football dementia’.
“Your brain is soft — about the consistency of soft butter. Your skull is really hard and has multiple sharp bony edges. Repeated hits to the head can devastate the brain long term,” he says.
He will not, he says, be recommending that his own grandchildren play football or rugby or soccer. “If you’re going to play, then you need to be rehabilitating your brain all the time. Not just when you’re symptomatic 10 years after you retire.
Dr Amen has devised a protocol to treat patients with brain trauma that addresses a number of factors including nutrition, sleep, and a therapy known as hyperbaric oxygen treatment (see below) and claims to have improved brain trauma in his patients. However, the general rule is that prevention is definitely better than cure.