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Health & wellness

College athletes should be warned about long-term risk from brain trauma, researchers say

College athletes should be warned about long-term consequences of brain trauma as part of the information they receive on concussions, say Boston researchers who are urging collegiate officials to include the material in presentations.

Concussion education provided by the National Collegiate Athletic Association to student-athletes makes no mention of the risk of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, nor does it include information about symptoms associated with the degenerative brain disease, which has been linked to repetitive head injuries, according to brain specialists from the Sports Legacy Institute, a Boston nonprofit that researches the issue.

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The researchers said that since 2010, the National Football League has warned players about the potential long-term risks of repeated brain injuries, including depression, memory problems, and early dementia.

“CTE can be a devastating neurological disease, and anyone voluntarily exposing themselves to repeated brain trauma should be warned of the consequences, even though we cannot yet perfectly quantify the risk,” Dr. Robert Cantu, a brain specialist at Boston University School of Medicine and a co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, said in a statement.

The NCAA medical advisory committee meets this week, and the Boston researchers said they hope the organization decides to provide “appropriate information” to student-athletes so that they can make informed decisions about their choices and behavior.

CTE is a progressive brain disease believed to be caused by repetitive trauma to the brain, including concussions or other blows to the head. CTE can be definitively diagnosed only after death through examination of the brain, and in recent years CTE has been diagnosed in dozens of former athletes at multiple research centers, including active and former NCAA athletes.

Chris Nowinski, a former Harvard University football player and co-founder of the center to study encephalopathy, said college athletes are not financially compensated for the health risks they are exposed to while competing.

“We need to appreciate the irony of asking scholarship athletes to trade a free education for the risk of a degenerative brain disease that may minimize the benefit of that education,” Nowinski said in a statement. “Athletes deserve to have informed consent and the opportunity to modify their behavior based on established science.”

Kay Lazar can be reached at klazar@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.
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