Dementia Pugilistica is a form of dementia that poses a serious long-term threat to individuals involved in contact-heavy sports, or who have sustained multiple concussions throughout their lives.

Similar to Alzheimer's disease, the condition results in rapid mental deterioration, but only after a latency period of several years.

What Is Dementia Pugilistica?

Dementia Pugilistica (DP), otherwise known as “punch-drunk syndrome" or “boxer's dementia," is a form of dementia that originates with repeated concussions or other traumatic blows to the head.

Unsurprisingly, boxers and other professional athletes in aggressive contact sports are the primary victims of DP. It takes a latent period of years, sometimes more than a decade, before symptoms of the condition arise, so it is sometimes hard to diagnose. It is thought that between 15 and 20 percent of professional boxers who take blows to the head regularly will develop DP.

Risk Factors For Dementia Pugilistica

The only major risk factor for developing Dementia Pugilistica is repetitive traumatic injuries to the head. These can come about in any number of ways, but is most commonly associated with the sport of boxing.

Repetitive concussions and head injuries are thought to scar brain tissue, damage the cerebellum and cause long-term damage to cerebral blood vessels. This collective damage is thought to lead to the buildup of amyloid plaque, which causes the symptoms of the disease (though the exact relationship is not yet entirely clear).

Avoiding aggressive physical activity and major head injuries is a surefire way to prevent the onset of DP. If you are engaging in a contact sport, it is prudent to wear properly supportive headgear.

Signs And Symptoms Of Dementia Pugilistica

Dementia Pugilistica shares a number of common symptoms with Alzheimer's disease, though the two are independently diagnosed. DP is distinguished from forms of non-degenerative dementia, in part because of the amyloid plaque buildup that causes the condition to arise and worsen—this buildup is highly similar to that found in Alzheimer's patients.

Sufferers of DP traditionally experience:

  • Progressively declining cognitive ability
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Physical tremors
  • Loss of physical coordination
  • Difficulty in speech
  • Changes in gait
  • Pathological feelings of jealousy or paranoia

Treatments For Dementia Pugilistica

Like Alzheimer's disease, DP is a form of dementia with no clear cure or reversibility. Many of the drugs used for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease can be used interchangeably with DP to an equally beneficial effect. Drugs used in the treatment of Parkinson's disease are also sometimes used in order to control the physical tremors associated with DP.

Many professional boxers eventually have to face Dementia Pugilistica, as a repercussion of years filled with repetitive blows to the head. Proper head protection and avoiding injury whenever possible can help prevent the disease, but little can be done to delay its onset after the injuries have been sustained, (despite the several-year-long latency period in between).

Once manifested, DP is similar to Alzheimer's disease in almost every way, and can be managed with the proper medication and treatment options.