Dr. Zachary Litvack, Neurosurgeon and Director of Neurotrauma at George Washington Medical Faculty Associates, discusses the link between repeated concussions and violent behavior — especially from sports related injuries.
It’s important for people to understand there is a difference between a single concussion, which somebody can recover from completely, and head trauma, which leads to a degenerative disease of the brain that occurs in response to repeated trauma. The disease, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, produces symptoms similar to Alzheimer and Parkinson type dementia, along with aggressive or violent behavior.
Typically there is a lag time between the exposure to the repeated trauma and the manifestation of the behavior. This time lapse from incident to displaying behavioral symptoms is different for each individual.
“What we don’t understand is exactly how long the lapse is, how it varies from person to person, or what the exact response is between the amount of repeated trauma and how quickly they develop these symptoms,” explained Dr. Litvack.
There are three phases of behavior that have been described in this disease:
Phase 1: Short-term memory issues, similar to early stage Alzheimer or Parkinson disease.
Phase 2: Spontaneous, compulsive, potentially violent behavior. Potentially violent behavior can range from verbal abuse to physical violence.
Phase 3: Full blown dementia, and Parkinsonism (movement disorders)
“There is no way to predict how this is going to manifest on an individual level,” explained Dr. Litvack. “If you think of the frontal lobe as your Jiminy Cricket, the one that tells you what’s OK to do and what’s not OK to do and suddenly that doesn’t work anymore, you are going to uncover a lot of compulsive and potentially violent behavior.”
The violent behavior is entirely dependent on the individual. It could be verbal only, such as yelling, screaming, verbal abuse or it could be physical depending on the patient’s background and history.
To learn more about this disease, listen to Dr. Litvack’s entire interview here.