Dementia pugilistica is a disorder that develops over several years due to multiple episodes of head trauma. Frequent concussions can lead to permanent brain damage, resulting in progressively worsening mental faculties. The condition is very common in professional boxers, or pugilists, as its name suggests. There is no cure for dementia pugilistica, though medications and therapy can help to slow the rate of cognitive degeneration and help patients learn to live with the disease.
A person who has dementia pugilistica may display a range of mental and physical symptoms. The disorder can inhibit an individual's ability to process written or spoken language, concentrate on tasks, and remember events. Some people experience psychotic episodes, mood swings, and unpredictable behavior changes. Physical symptoms are often similar to the ones seen with Parkinson's disease, and can include hand tremors, speaking difficulties, and loss of motor movement coordination.
Symptoms of dementia pugilistica are not exclusively found in boxers. Athletes who play contact sports such as hockey and football are also at risk of developing the condition. Engaging in fast-paced, high-impact activities such as skiing and skateboarding may result in dementia pugilistica if enough falls are taken. Repetitive concussions do not always manifest as dementia pugilistica. It is likely, however, that multiple cerebral contusions, damage to the cerebellum, and massive neuron death will begin to cause problems within about a decade.
A doctor can diagnose dementia pugilistica by reviewing a patient's medical history, evaluating present symptoms, and performing imaging tests. Computerized tomography scans are used to look for physical signs of brain and brain stem damage. Electroencephalograms and other electric brain-wave monitoring tools can help a neurologist determine the severity of a patient's condition.
Treatment measures are determined largely on a case-by-case basis. A doctor usually prescribes medications to help prevent seizures, tremors, muscle spasms, and other physical manifestations of the disorder. Antipsychotic drugs and sedatives can be helpful for patients who suffer from behavioral swings, hallucinations, and concentration problems. Many patients participate in ongoing speech and physical therapy to help them maintain the highest degree of independence possible in their daily lives.
Dementia pugilistica is much easier to prevent than it is to treat. Wearing a helmet is essential when playing contact and action sports, riding motorcycles, and engaging in other activities where head trauma is likely. Due to the high incidence of dementia in boxers, many leagues around the world are requiring their athletes to wear protective headgear in practice as well as in actual matches.