Ralph Wenzel was an 11th round pick in the 1966 NFL Draft, and played guard for seven seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the San Diego Chargers, where he estimated that he suffered more concussions than he could count. After football, Wenzel went on to coach football at the college level, but began suffering from significant memory lapses and cognitive problems in 1995 at age 52. His symptoms worsened to the point that he could no longer work, communicate, or feed himself and he was diagnosed with early signs of dementia at 56. Wenzel couldn’t drive or read a book by the early 2000’s, became dependent on a caretaker by 2003, moved to a full-time facility for dementia care in 2007, and had lost the ability to walk by 2010.
While Wenzel was losing his fight with dementia, his wife, Dr. Eleanor Perfetto, was a vocal advocate for the long-term effects that her husband and other former NFL players were experiencing. By publicizing her husband’s drastic decline, Dr. Perfetto, a former CLF Board Member, was instrumental in causing the NFL to change some of its safety policies and increasing public awareness of CTE and other long-term damage. Here, Dr. Perfetto tell Ralph Wenzel’s story.