Derek Boogaard: A Brain ‘Going Bad’ at traces the decline and death of NHL left winger Derek Boogaard. Boogard died on May 13, 2011, as the result of an accidental overdose of drugs and alcohol.  He was 28 years old. Comments from teammates, friends, and family tell a story of a decline into personality change, drug and alcohol abuse, and depression.

Boogaard’s family donated his brain to the Bedford VA Medical Center in Bedford, Mass. Scientists at the center reported their findings to the family five months later:

Boogaard had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, commonly known as CTE, a close relative of Alzheimer’s disease. It is believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head. It can be diagnosed only posthumously, but scientists say it shows itself in symptoms like memory loss, impulsiveness, mood swings, even addiction.

More than 20 dead former N.F.L. players and many boxers have had CTE diagnosed. It generally hollowed out the final years of their lives into something unrecognizable to loved ones.


But this was different. The others were not in their 20s, not in the prime of their careers.
The scientists on the far end of the conference call told the Boogaard family that they were shocked to see so much damage in someone so young. It appeared to be spreading through his brain. Had Derek Boogaard lived, they said, his condition likely would have worsened into middle-age dementia.

These and other findings show that CTE can start early. They also stress the need for families of athletes to become more aware of executive dysfunction (especially problems with emotional dysregulation due to frontal lobe damage) and the importance of neurorehabilitation for high school and college hockey players who have had concussions.

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