Football Hall of Famer Barry Sanders is the latest NFL athlete to step up to raise awareness for some of the serious, long-term neurological problems that can occur from playing football and other contact sports. It's now well known that concussions and traumatic brain injures occur in a staggering number of professional athletes.
Sanders is hoping to educate the public about a lesser known neurological illness called PseudoBulbar Affect disorder, otherwise known as PBA. It's a secondary condition that can emerge in athletes with a history of head injuries and in people with other serious diseases of the brain.
"[It's] basically uncontrollable laughing or crying when that's not really what you feel or what you want to experience," Sanders explained. "It happens as a result of head injuries. But it also happens from things like dementia, Alzheimer's and stroke and other sort of neurological conditions like that."
Approximately 2 million Americans suffer from PBA. The unintended emotional outbursts can be very isolating and difficult to live with.
"The reason why it kind of hits home is we're seeing that some of our former athletes have it as well," he said. "Well over 90 percent of those guys have had a head injury when they played, and a third of those guys are suffering from PBA-like symptoms so we're just getting the word out that they should visit a doctor."
He urges people to visit tacklePBA.org to learn more about the condition. A self-assessment test is available on the website, which is sponsored by the drug company that makes Nuedexta, the first FDA-approved treatment for PBA.
"Sometimes people don't even know they have it or they may be ashamed and it does make for a tough social interaction when people have to live with that," Sanders said.