One of the holy grails of brain research is to find a way to diagnose and treat CTE while a person is still alive, possibly soon after being diagnosed with a brain injury, said Dr. Walter Koroshetz, the deputy director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Right now there are no brain imaging techniques sophisticated enough to spot the subtle brain changes as the disease begins to form, though some PET scan techniques used to diagnose Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia show promise, he said.
And because so little is known about the brain's risk and vulnerability to CTE, Nowinski said parents should do everything they can to prevent their kids from getting a concussion during sports and play.
Safe play starts with a good fitting helmet, he said, but there's no strong evidence they offer as much protection from concussions as parents might assume. The best way to manage head injuries is to ensure coaches and kids play safely and know how to spot the signs and symptoms of concussion.
"If you suspect your child has sustained a concussion, don't let it go. Seek medical attention," Nowinski said. "You can lower the risks with proper diagnosis and treatment."