The New York Times has reported that a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated blows to the head has been found in a US semi-professional football player who died last April.
Researchers at Boston University and VA Boston Healthcare System who have diagnosed many cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) said 29-year-old Patrick Grange showed damage on a level usually found in American football players.
"He had very extensive frontal lobe damage," said neuropathologist Ann McKee, who examined Grange's brain.
"We have seen other athletes in their 20s with this level of pathology but they have usually been (American) football players."
Researchers also found severe CTE signs in the shriveled and deteriorated brain of a 77-year-old former rugby union player from Australia, Barry "Tizza" Taylor, although that was more expected given the collision-filled nature of the sport.
Grange's parents told the Times that their son took pride in his skills at heading the ball before his death, which came as a result of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known in America as Lou Gehrig's Disease after the famed 1930s New York Yankees baseball star who died of the disease in 1941.
Repeated blows to the head in boxing and American football have caused damage similar to that found in Grange, but his repeated heading of the ball cannot conclusively be linked to his brain's condition, McKee said.
"We can't say for certain that heading the ball caused his condition in this case, but it is noteworthy that he was a frequent header of the ball and he did develop this disease," she said.
"I'm not sure we can take it any further than that."
CTE has been diagnosed in boxers for many years, in American football players and ice hockey players more recently and last December for the first time in a baseball player.
Aussie Taylor played rugby for 19 years, including 235 games for Manly, but near the end of his life had severe memory loss.
"I took him for a walk and I was getting a lot of monosyllabic answers," Taylor's son Steven said. "I said, 'What's your name, mate?' He looked at me and just shrugged his shoulders.
"That's the point he got to. He didn't even known who he was... It was a great waste, a great shame, knowing that the last 20 years did not have to be like this."
Symptoms of CTE include depression, memory loss, progressive dementia and impulse control disorders.
The findings are part of an updated version of a 2012 documentary debuting Thursday in New York entitled "Head Games: The Global Concussion Crisis."