Dr. Ann McKee: CTE and the Military

Football players play football. Boxers box. The activity that exposes athletes to repetitive head trauma tends to be consistent. But service members are exposed to many things that cause repetitive head trauma. Unlike athletes, these tend to be more random exposures that aren't connected to the number of years they served. Dr. Ann McKee explains why studying the chronic traumatic encephalopathy CTE in the military is more complicated than studying athletes.

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We’ve been studying athletes for almost 11 years now and that’s been very insightful. I mean we’ve been able to really address, because athletes tend to go out and do the same thing every day. If they’re football players, they play football. If they’re boxers, they box. But what the activity that exposes them to head trauma tends to be relatively homogeneous. So they were a good group to study initially. Military veterans, we know are exposed to many things that cause repetitive head trauma. We know that IED exposure can produce CTE. We know it is associated with brain injury that has in some respects is similar to head impacts. And we know that mild traumatic brain injury is a common injury of the last conflict. About 350,000 military personnel have mild traumatic brain injuries. Military personnel are often athletes. They usually come together. In our experience about 75% of military are also athletes. They tend to be risk-takers. They tend to engage in things like combatives even as training exercises. Boxing is still part of the academy education. And so the military has multiple exposures. They tend to be much more random exposures, much more individual, where that person was at that place of time, were they exposed to blast or did they get an impact? So every person is unique. It’s not – we can’t study their injury by studying how many years they were in the military for example. And I think in addition to having much more variable exposures, we’re seeing a much more complicated effect. And there certainly is CTE. We’ve seen CTE. We don’t know the prevalence of CTE. I know other individuals think it’s not as high in the athletes. I’m not so sure. I don’t think you can say that unless we’ve actually done the studies. This video was produced by BrainLine thanks to generous support from the Infinite Hero Foundation.
Posted on BrainLine December 20, 2018.

This video was produced by BrainLine thanks to generous support from the Infinite Hero Foundation.

© 2019 BrainLine

About the author: Ann McKee, MD

Ann McKee, MD is the chief neuropathologist for the Framingham Heart Study and the Boston University-based Centenarian Study. She is also the chief neuropathologist for the Boston-based Veterans Administration Medical Centers and for the Sports Legacy Institute.

Ann McKee