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Football: A Cause of Dementia?

By Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw

Sir Bobby Charlton, the well-known English footballer of 1966 World Cup fame, has been diagnosed with dementia.

This news has, once again, raised the question of whether there is a link between playing football and this condition.

According to the latest research by experts at Glasgow University, former professional footballers are three and half more times likely to die from dementia than people of the same age in the rest of the population.

This research, which was commissioned by the English Football Association (FA) and the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), compared the deaths of 7,676 former players with the deaths of 23,000 persons from the general population.

The sample was taken from men who played professional football in Scotland and were born between 1900 and 1976.

The lead researcher, Dr Willie Stewart, a Consultant Neuropathologist, stated that:

This is the largest study to date looking in this detail at the incidence of neurodegenerative disease in any sport, not just professional footballers.”

And he added that:

Our data show that while footballers had higher dementia rates, they had lower rates of death due to other major diseases.”

Greg Clarke, the FA Chairman, remarked that:

The whole game must recognise that this is only the start of our understanding and there are many questions that still need to be answered.”

Whilst Gordon Taylor, the Chief Executive of the PFA, added that:

Research must continue to answer more specific questions about what needs to be done to identify and reduce risk factors.”

There seems to be a link between heading footballs and dementia and maybe the use of modern lightweight footballs may reduce the risk of this terrible condition amongst professional footballers?

Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw may be contacted by e-mail at ‘This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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