Footballers at increased risk of developing dementia, finds study

Footballers at increased risk of developing dementia, finds study

Footballers at increased risk of developing dementia, finds study

New Delhi: Footballers are one-and-a-half times more likely to develop dementia than the general population, according to a new study.

Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, published in the Lancet Public Health journal today, compared the health records of 6,000 elite footballers and more than 56,000 non-footballers between 1924 and 2019.

They found that among male footballers playing in the Swedish top division, 9 per cent were diagnosed with neurodegenerative disease, compared with 6 per cent of the control sample.

There was no significant risk increase for footballers of contracting motor neurone disease, according to the study.

The risk of Parkinson’s disease and overall mortality was also lower among football players compared to other people, the researchers found.

The academics behind the study suggested this might be “because of maintaining good physical fitness from frequently playing football”.

The study also compared the risk of neurodegenerative disease among outfield players to goalkeepers. It found outfield players had a 1.4 times higher risk of neurodegenerative disease compared to goalkeepers.

“Goalkeepers rarely head the ball, unlike outfield players, but are exposed to similar environments and lifestyles during their football careers and perhaps also after retirement,” Sky News quoted Peter Ueda, assistant professor at Karolinska Institutet, as saying.

“It has been hypothesised that repetitive mild head trauma sustained through heading the ball is the reason football players are at increased risk, and it could be that the difference in neurodegenerative disease risk between these two types of players supports this theory,” Ueda added.

In recent years, there have been growing concerns about exposure to head trauma in football and whether it can lead to an increased risk of neurodegenerative disease later in life.

A previous study from Scotland suggested that footballers were 3.5 times more likely to develop neurodegenerative disease.

Following this evidence, certain footballing associations implemented measures to reduce heading in younger age groups and training settings.

“While the risk increase in our study is slightly smaller than in the previous study from Scotland, it confirms that elite footballers have a greater risk of neurogenerative disease later in life,” Ueda said.

“As there are growing calls from within the sport for greater measures to protect brain health, our study adds to the limited evidence base and can be used to guide decisions on how to manage these risks,” he told Sky News.

The Football Association is currently trialling banning children under the age of 12 from heading the ball in grassroots leagues and competitions in England.

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