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Dementia in Football

You may have seen the recent hashtag #dementiainfootball, popularised by an undeniable pattern of dementia diagnoses in ex-football players. Just last week, two legendary players publicly confirmed their diagnoses- Denis Law and Terry McDermott. Of course, we send the best of wishes to them and hope that they receive the best care possible.

You’ll be pleased to hear that, in light of these new diagnoses, several former football stars have joined Head For Change- a group that is demanding the authorities act and initiate research focused on maintaining and protecting the brain health of retired players. Sixty former players aged between 30 and 70 have thrown their support behind the group, including Gary Lineker and Brian Deane.

However, many argue that football authorities should have taken a stronger and more sustained interest in the issue of cognitive impairment, following a study published in October 2019; concluding that former professional footballers are three-and-a-half times more likely to die of dementia than their peers.

 

But why is this the case?

Well, research suggests that repeated heading of the ball can actually cause brain injuries. Denis Law himself claims that he is certain this is the case, as footballs in his day were a lot harder and painful to head. Although there are lots of risk factors relating to dementia, it is impossible to ignore the correlation between this and former football players.

Consequently, people are disappointed with the lack of research and education for current and future players on the dangers of sport-related head injuries and how to prevent forms of brain damage during their careers. Football Authorities are being shamed for their dismissal of crucial cases of sport-related brain damage, such as former West Brom and England striker Jeff Astle in 2002, which found his death was caused by chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) as a result of repeated heading of a ball.

Last year, former England Player Ryan Mason called for a ban on heading during training. Now, as of February 2020, children under the age of 12 are not to practice heading the ball. (Although it is permitted during matches.) This is one of a supposed many steps towards a safer sporting experience that, in theory, reduces the chance of developing dementia.

As a dementia charity, we can only hope that these recent events bring to light the countless football legends that have also been diagnosed as a result of their career. And, of course, that the Head For Change group succeeds in funding for retired players’ care homes, support at home and medical fees.

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