Majority Press

Senate Aging Committee Examines the Link Between Head Injuries and Diseases Such as Alzheimer's

Former WWE and NFL Athletes Testify Before the Committee

WASHINGTON, DC – The Senate Special Committee on Aging, led by Chairman Bill Nelson and Ranking Member Susan Collins, today held a hearing to examine the link between brain injuries and neurological diseases later in life such as Alzheimer’s, ALS, and Parkinson’s.  Ben Utecht, a Super Bowl-winning tight end for the Indianapolis Colts, and Chris Nowinski, a Harvard football player turned WWE professional wrestler, appeared before the hearing to explore the long-term impact of traumatic brain injuries (TBI).  They are among a growing number of former athletes from a wide range of sports who now suffer from long-term impairments caused by repeated blows to the head. The hearing, titled “The State of Play:  Brain Injuries and Diseases of Aging,” also featured two experts from the research community.


            Senator Collins said that she is troubled by one study cited by the Alzheimer’s Association which found that older individuals with a history of moderate traumatic brain injury are more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as seniors with no history of brain injury.  Those with a history of severe traumatic brain injury were found to have a 4.5 times greater risk.


            “More research is required to establish definitively that there is a link between head injuries and neurological diseases later in life, but it is clear that this important research could lead to a better understanding of devastating diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS. This critical research could also benefit our veterans and troops on the ground, far too many of whom have experienced TBI and its painful lasting effects,” said Senator Collins.


            Senator Collins also noted that seniors who have been injured from a fall are also at risk of long-term health conditions.  According to the CDC, individuals over 65 have the highest rates of TBI-related hospitalizations and death.


While researchers don’t understand fully the extent of the relationship between TBI and diseases such as Alzheimer’s, a growing body of evidence suggests that one complication of repetitive TBI is the later development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and possibly Alzheimer’s disease. 


            Robert Stern, PhD, Professor of Neurology at Boston University’s School of Medicine explained that anyone who has sustained repeated head injuries, regardless of their age, is at greater risk for developing CTE or other long-term conditions. He described advancements in technologies to better diagnose changes in brain activity that is the result of head trauma, and he discussed the importance of increased research funding.


            Jacob VanLandingham, PhD, Director of Neurobiological Research, Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare Neuroscience Center, and Assistant Professor, Florida State University College of Medicine also testified at today’s hearing.