Soccer players who frequently head the ball are up to three-and-a-half times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s, according to new research.
Most prone are those who do it more than 15 times per match or training session – such as strikers and center halves.
The results are based on 469 retired professional players in England – adding to evidence the ‘beautiful game’ can cause dementia.
Corresponding author Dr. Weiya Zhang, of the University of Nottingham, said: “To our knowledge, this is the first study primarily focusing on heading frequency during soccer players’ professional career period and its long-term consequences, specifically cognitive impairment and dementia.
Participants were over 45 and registered with the PFA (Professional Footballers’ Association) or a League Club Players’ Association.
Compared with those reporting five or fewer headers per match or training session, reporting six to 15 or over 15 was linked to a nearly threefold and 3.5 higher risk for cognitive impairment, respectively.
Concussion involving memory loss was also associated with over three times greater risk – with similar results observed for dementia.
It’s believed repetitive heading has a cumulative damaging effect on brain health – supported by chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) noted on autopsies of athletes who participated in contact sports, including former footballers.
Professional footballers in Scotland are to be banned from heading the ball in training the day before and the day after a game.
Clubs are also being told to limit exercises that involve repetitive heading to one session per week.
The new guidelines come after Glasgow University research that showed former footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to die from brain disease.
The participants were born between 1936 and 1976, with an average age of 64, and starting to have cognitive impairment. Hence, they were more suitable for assessing potential long-term deficits.
Dementia has killed four members of England’s World Cup-winning team of 1966.
They include Ray Wilson, Martin Peters, Jack Charlton and Nobby Stiles. Sir Bobby Charlton is suffering from the same condition.
In 2015, his family launched the Jeff Astle Foundation, raising awareness of brain injury in all forms of sport, as well as offering support to those affected.
The charity has grown in size with high profile patrons including high-profile former England internationals Alan Shearer and Gary Neville.
West Bromwich Albion has announced that the Jeff Astle Foundation will be its Official Charity Partner for the 2023/24 season with the home kit for the new campaign dedicated to the club’s legendary former striker.
The club will make a donation to the Foundation for every home shirt sold, and will also support the charity’s initiatives throughout the season.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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