Study links dementia to soccer ball heading


According to Ling, more studies need to be conducted because of the small sample size: The findings can not be applied to a wider scale as of yet, and more research needs to be done in order to see whether or not dementia is more common in soccer players than the in the average population.

The research, conducted in collaboration between University College London and Cardiff University, involved the examination of six people who played football for an average of a quarter of a century.

The six players were part of a wider study of 14 retired players over three decades, all skilled headers of the ball who suffered from dementia.

He told the Telegraph: "There was one study from the United Kingdom recently published that used 20 headers within 10 minutes".

On Wednesday, FIFA responded with press release that claimed the new study does not confirm the correlation between heading and dementia.

The new Uefa research will count the number of times children head the ball in real-life scenarios, with the data collected being used during further research into the effects on the brain of repeated impacts.

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The players whose brain autopsies showed signs of CTE also had Alzheimer's disease, though Ling said the relationship between the two diseases remained unclear. According to author Dr Helen Ling, it is the first time that CTE, a potential cause of dementia, has been confirmed in a group of retired footballers. Both CTE and Alzheimer's disease can cause dementia.

"These players had the same pathology as boxers", she said.

The rate of CTE identified in the footballers' brains exceeds the 12 percent average background rate of CTE found in a previous survey of 268 brains of an unselected population at the Queen Square Brain Bank, according to the study, which has been published in the journal Acta Neuropathologica.

As Dr David Reynolds of Alzheimer's Research UK pointed out, the benefits of regular exercise in terms of dementia prevention may well outweigh any risk, especially for those who play football on a recreational basis.

The retired footballers had dementia and were referred to a psychiatry service in Swansea, Wales between 1980 and 2010.

"The results suggest that heading the ball over many years, a form of repetitive sub-concussive head injury, can result in the development of CTE and dementia". We know that these factors play a big role in influencing a person's risk of dementia and so need to be accounted for when understanding how the condition has developed.

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Dr Charlotte Cowie, of the FA, added: "The FA is determined to support this research and is also committed to ensuring that any research process is independent, robust and thorough, so that when the results emerge, everyone in the game can be confident in its findings".

But they acknowledge their research can not definitively prove a link between football and dementia and are calling for larger studies to look at footballers' long-term brain health.

The Alzheimer's Society, said that studies with much larger numbers of participants were needed, who a control group of footballers who do not have cognitive problems.

In 2015, the U.S. Soccer Federation recommended a ban on headers for players 10 and under in a bid to address concerns about the impact of head injuries.

"To this end, we have recently agreed with the PFA (Professional Footballers' Association) to jointly fund the research project as we believe that a collaborative approach will strengthen the credibility and resource available to the project".

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