Dementia pugilistica, also called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), boxer's dementia, and punch-drunk syndrome, is a neurological disorder which affects some career boxers and wrestlers who receive multiple dazing blows to the head. The condition develops over a period of years, with the average time of onset being about 12-16 years after the start of a career in boxing. The word pugilistica comes from the latin root pugil, for boxer.
The condition, which occurs in people who have suffered multiple concussions, commonly manifests as dementia, or declining mental ability, and parkinsonism, or tremors and lack of coordination. It can also cause unsteady gait, inappropriate behavior, and speech problems. Individuals displaying these symptoms also can be characterized as "punchy," another term for a person suffering from Dementia Pugilistica.
It is not well understood why this syndrome occurs. Loss of neurons, scarring of brain tissue, collection of proteinaceous, senile plaques, hydrocephalus, attenuation of corpus callosum, diffuse axonal injury, neurofibrillary tangles and damage to the cerebellum are implicated in the syndrome, which may be etiologically related to Alzheimer's disease. One group examined slices of brain from patients who had had multiple mild traumatic brain injuries and found changes in the cells' cytoskeletons, which they suggested might be due to damage to cerebral blood vessels.
Famous sufferers are thought to include Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Beau Jack and, more recently, Jimmy Ellis, Floyd Patterson (who resigned from the New York State Athletic Commission because of his deteriorating memory), Bobby Chacon, Jerry Quarry, Mike Quarry, Wilfredo Benitez, Emile Griffith, Willie Pep, Freddie Roach, Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali and Meldrick Taylor.
Recently, several former NFL players have been posthumously diagnosed with CTE. Justin Strzelczyk died in 2004 during a high-speed chase with police after apparently suffering a nervous breakdown. Andre Waters and Terry Long were diagnosed with the disorder after committing suicide. Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Webster suffered from dementia before his death due to heart failure, and was also diagnosed with CTE. It is believed that numerous concussions and other brain injuries incurred during their careers are responsible for the development of CTE.
More recently, an analysis of brain tissue of professional wrestler Chris Benoit, who murdered his wife and son before killing himself on the weekend of June 25 2007, showed that he was suffering from serious brain damage consistent with CTE.
- NCERx. 2005. Brain Trauma, Subdural Hematoma and Dementia Pugilistica. About-dementia.com. Retrieved on 2007-12-19.
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- "Report: Signs of damage linked to dementia in Strzelczyk's brain" ESPN.com. Accessed 15 June 2007
- Associated Press. Study suggests brain damage may have affected Benoit. ESPN.com. URL accessed on 2007-09-05.