What is CTE? Local brain expert weighs in

By: John Krinjak

Email: jkrinjak@abc6.com

Twitter: @johnkrinjakABC6

WARWICK, R.I. (WLNE) — Chronic traumatic encephalopathy–or CTE–is a degenerative brain disease in which the brain deteriorates in a way similar to Alzheimer’s.

"That happens when there’s multiple head trauma, generally occurring over time," said Dr. William White, a brain expert at Brain in Play International in Warwick.

Dr. White says what jumped out at him the most about Hernandez was the fact that his brain showed such an advance stage of the disease at just 27 years old. 

"Normally we would not expect to see a stage 3 CTE neuropathology until someone was older, maybe in their 50s or 60s," said White. 

The disease can result in cognitive issues–such as lack of focus or headaches–and in some cases can affect a person’s mood.

"There have been cases of acute suicidal thoughts and even actions," said White. 

In Hernandez’s case, attorney Jose Baez suggested if the former Patriot had known he had CTE, it could have saved his life.

"Our client may have been able to understand what was happening to him, and that could have ultimately prevented his death," said White. 

Dr. White says he’s seen numerous cases of CTE in NFL players, all the way down to the high school level. So what can players and parents do to prevent it? 

"I think to be very involved. If there is a concussion, make sure your child is worked up as much as possible at a medical center. Make a referral to post-concussive care. And just educate yourself as much as possible. We certainly want to prevent at all costs children from having multiple concussive incidents," said White. 

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was asked Friday what steps he takes to inform his players of the dangers of CTE when they join the team. 

Belichick responded saying the team’s medical staff covers "a lot of things."

©WLNE-TV / ABC6 2017