As CTE diagnoses increase, what does it mean to have it?

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The latest frontier for the league’s concussion debate comes from the ability of doctors to diagnose Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy without actually slicing and studying pieces of the brain of a deceased patient.

Former Dolphins receiver Mark Duper becomes the latest former NFL player to acknowledge a CTE diagnosis, joining the names that recently emerged as knowing they have CTE while still alive:  Tony Dorsett, Leonard Marshall, and Joe DeLamielleure.

Knowing that former players have CTE is one thing.  Knowing what it means is another.  And that represents the next wave in understanding the condition.  With folks like Dr. Ann McKee wondering aloud whether everyone who ever played football at any level has CTE, diagnosing its presence in former NFL players who have symptoms of CTE doesn’t shed much light on what having CTE means for those who don’t have symptoms.

The news of former NFL players with CTE comes at a time when Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw discusses with USA Today his issues with memory loss.

“I lose stuff.  I forget stuff.  I walk into rooms and go, ‘Why am I in here?  What did I come in here for?’ Is that normal?  I’m 65.  I don’t know,” Bradshaw said.

The reality is that, for former NFL players past 60, it may be hard to draw the line between the aging process and the lingering consequences of playing football.

Now that CTE has been discovered, science has a long way to go to determine whether the symptoms come from CTE or something else — and to figure out why many former football players never have any cognitive difficulties at all after they stop playing.