The recent Will Smith film "Concussion" may have put traumatic brain injury into the national spotlight, but work on degenerative diseases like chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, has been happening for more than a decade.
The disease, whose symptoms include memory loss, social instability and erratic behavior, has been attributed to the deaths of a number of athletes, including former Denver Broncos running back Rob Lytle. Dr. Jennifer Hammers, a Deputy Chief medical examiner in New York City and a member of the board of directors for the Brain Injury Research Institute in Pittsburgh, said Hollywood's treatment of CTE has both helped and hurt.
"It spreads the word and it continues to remind people it's an issue and it gets people more interested in the topic," Hammers said. "On the other hand, any time you're talking about making donations like your brain tissue, it's not easy ... there's still a barrier people have about saying, 'Okay you can have my brain.' The complexity of what’s going on might be quite difficult to comprehend and deal with."
The impact of CTE has been so powerful that some have even questioned whether football will even be played in the future. Parents around the country are asking themselves whether it's safe to allow their children to play; Hammers said even with the current research and increased awareness, that decision is still a matter of individual choice.
"With this new info, you would certainly think that there will be less people going into the sport," Hammers said. "Does it mean the NFL won't go on? Right now it certainly seems people's desire to play is greater than wanting zero risk at all."
Hammers spoke with Colorado Matters host Nathan Heffel.