Derek Boogaard had degenerative brain disease linked to head injuries

After former Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard was found dead in his apartment this past spring, many wondered if a season-ending concussion had anything to do with his untimely death. A toxicology report from the Hennepin County Medical Examiner later determined that 28-year-old Boogaard died of an accidental overdose of alcohol and prescription painkillers.

However, that did not close the book on whether Boogaard's legendary fights and multiple concussions may have contributed to his death. Just days after he died, his parents donated his brain to Dr. Ann McKee, whose research on degenerative brain diseases in football players is changing the NFL.

Now, according to a New York Times piece on Boogaard, the results are in and they are alarming.

Boogaard was much beloved during his time as a Wild enforcer, both for his ferocity on the ice and his friendliness with fans. But according to the third part in a series by the Times, that affability noticeably declined in the year leading up to his death. Boogaard became addicted to painkillers and sought treatment in rehab, although he was still buying massive quantities of pills like Oxycodone and Vicodin, and asking brother Aaron to hide them from him. He isolated himself, complained of memory lapses, and began missing important meetings.


This behavior seems to jive with what McKee learned and shared with the Boogaards in October: The Boogeyman's brain showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy believed to be caused by repeat trauma to the head. The disease can impair judgment, cause personality shifts, and even, some believe, lead to substance abuse. 

The nerve damage was extensive for someone so young and in the prime of his career. Doctors told the Boogaards their son might have been destined for middle-age dementia.

Boogaard is not the first hockey enforcer found to suffer the disease in posthumous research. In March of this year, Bob Probert's brain showed the same extensive nerve damage. He, too, had substance abuse issues, but died at a much older age.

Researchers have found the same long-term degenerative damage in the brains of 20 deceased NFL players. Fred McNeill, a former Vikings player, is suffering early-onset dementia and is allowing his brain to be studied while he is still living by scientists in California. He's also suing the Vikings for workman's comp related to his troubles.

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