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Series: The Science Of Brain Health

Scientists are still developing a better understanding of brain health and maladies from concussions to Alzheimer's disease, but it's clear that all stages of life can have significant consequences for the human body's most complex organ. Brain health plays a role in everyday wellness challenges elderly adults face, and as Wisconsin's overall population ages, research and public-health efforts promoting well-being and quality of life are focusing on issues like degenerative neural diseases and strokes. At the same time, the medical community is becoming more concerned about threats to younger and middle-aged people's brain health, especially when it comes to devastating effects of athletics-related injuries, whether in high-school competitions or professional sports. Whatever the circumstances, the condition of the brain has myriad effects on both physical and mental health.
 
At 6 feet tall and 195 pounds, Tony Megna was considered too small to be a college football linebacker. Megna was determined, though, to play for the University of Wisconsin-Madison squad.
A University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher is examining ways to improve athletes' reporting of brain injuries — a key to preventing long-term neurological damage.
As awareness increases about the dangers of sports-related concussions and the culture that perpetuates these injuries, Dee Hall of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism discusses what is happening at UW-Madison, in research labs and on the gridiron.
Chris Borland, a former Wisconsin Badger and NFL player, hung up his jersey over concerns that continuing to play football would lead to serious brain damage. He now advocates for keeping athletes safe and to "proceed with caution" in sports.
Every 65 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer's disease, and its prevalence is growing as the nation ages.
Wisconsin is in the middle of a national controversy about the health risks of contact sports, with research into concussions being conducted in the state, and a string of players who have left football after suffering brain injuries.
Dr. Bennet Omalu likens the American obsession with football to a religion. In that regard, he might be considered a heretic: Omalu has equated allowing children to play football to child abuse and warns that the NFL is doomed unless it starts reducing harmful blows to the head.