Dementia in Football Players are More Likely to Delevop

Soccer Practice Session in the Training Area with Coach

The FA and U.S. soccer regulators have introduced guidelines to limit heading, but debates continue about the cause of this football dementia.

Football or soccer is a popular sport with a huge potential link to dementia in players.

Studies show an increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases in many ex-professional soccer players who are having brain damage.

Researchers suggest that teenage brains may be vulnerable to heading due to their size and immaturity, possibly leading to neurodegeneration. Supporting age-based heading limits, further research is needed, including both professional and non-professional players.

Latest Research about Football and Dementia

Football in the old field

Two new studies investigated the changes that happen in the brains of aging former professional soccer players, focusing on the potential long-term effects of playing football and heading the ball.

The Drake Foundation is sponsoring one of these studies involving about 300 former professional football players. Researchers will examine brain changes and collect extensive data on the players, including their history of heading in football, various lifestyle factors, and their physical and mental functions.

In early 2020, the University of East Anglia initiated a separate project using advanced technology to detect early signs of dementia in former professional footballers. This study is different from previous ones by including male and female professional players and aims to inform when players may start developing dementia. This research ensures a better understanding of the impact of football on brain health in the long term.

What are the Statistics?

Dementia is a neurodegenerative disease among others such as Alzheimer's disease and motor neuron disease, that show cognitive symptoms such as memory disorders, personality changes, and impaired reasoning. In 2019, a significant FIELD study investigated the potential link between repetitive head impacts and the risk of neurodegenerative disease among athletes.

The study showed that former football players were five times more likely to develop and had a significantly higher death rate from neurodegenerative diseases than the others. In high-profile dementia cases, such as Sir Bobby Charlton, the career length is cut short. Additionally, it was discovered that FIFA had knowledge of the link between football and brain damage since 1984 and raised concerns about player safety and developing dementia.

Expert Reaction

Luke griggs protraits from Headway

Luke Griggs, chief executive of brain injury charity Headway

“It is important that football is willing to evolve as our understanding of the long-term implications of repeated sub-concussive impacts increases. We know enough now to make balanced, sensible adjustments to limit exposure to head impacts.” This includes “limiting of heading practice drills for adults, and complete bans on children heading the ball as they move through key stages in their physical and neurological development,”

MEDIAmaker. (n.d.). Luke Griggs. Headway. https://www.headway.org.uk/about-headway/headway-uk-staff/chief-executives-department/luke-griggs/

Dr. Adam White, head of brain health at the Professional Footballers’ Association

“to recognize dementia as an industrial disease. We are doing all we can to improve the management of head trauma by lobbying for temporary concussion substitutions and working towards a reduction of heading in training.“

Adam White. (n.d.). Concussion Legacy Foundation. https://concussionfoundation.org/about/staff/adam-white

Adam White face protratis shot from camera
Richard Oakley Face Protraits in news

Dr. Richard Oakley, associate director of Alzheimer's Research UK Society

“We now urgently need more answers to determine what lies behind this link – why dementia would start to form, how the type of injury, frequency, and age at which head injuries occur may influence risk, and how we can accurately predict who is likely to go on to develop dementia after a traumatic brain injury.”

‘We all have the same goal, a world without dementia’ – Meet our new Head of Research. (n.d.). Alzheimer’s Society. https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/for-researchers/new-head-of-research-dr-richard-oakley

How Football Association Deal with It?

In 2021, the football association announced a comprehensive set of heading guidelines for English football for all levels from former professional footballers to amateurs, with a focus on playing football.

These guidelines are developed by the PFA and applicable to both men's and women's football clubs recommend several key measures below:

Limiting High-Force Headers

Heading is a huge risk factor. To lower risk, a maximum of 10 higher-force headers per training week is advised. These include headers following long passes (over 35 meters) and those from crosses, corners, and free kicks to avoid traumatic brain injury.

Technique Practice

Encouraging players to practice heading technique using thrown passes that is believed to result in lower peak accelerations during heading drills.

Player Profiles

It's advised that the club is encouraged to develop player profiles that consider risk factors such as gender, age, position, the frequency of headers in matches, and the nature of these headers.

Recovery and Care

To contact sports associations, club staff work closely with players after each match to ensure they have sufficient recovery time following exposure to heading during games.

These factors give a proactive approach to address the problem of the potential dementia risk associated with heading in football and aim to enhance the safety and well-being of players from all levels of the sport to avoid developing neurodegenerative disease.

How to Reduce the Risk of Dementia?

Now let's turn this to our play style to prevent a higher risk of losing cognitive ability. Here are some tips:

  • Physical activity
  • Healthy eating
  • Do not smoke
  • Reduce your alcohol
  • Maintain your mental and social activity
  • Take care of your health

In conclusion, the potential link between football and dementia is a topic of increased risk and ongoing research which the relationship between football-related head impacts and dementia is not fully understood, there is growing evidence and awareness prompting regulatory measures to protect the long-term brain injury of football players from developing neurodegenerative disease. There will be more studies to provide a clearer picture of the risks and how to deal with them in sports.