Repeated headers during a footballer’s professional career may be linked to long-term brain damage, according to a small study by UK scientists. | BBC | OnMedica
The researchers, from the Queen Square Brain Bank in London, base their findings on 14 retired footballers with dementia, who were referred to the Old Age Psychiatry Service in Swansea between 1980 and 2010.
Evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was found in four out of the six whose brains were examined after death. All six also had signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
Lead author Dr Helen Ling explained “This is the first time CTE has been confirmed in a group of retired footballers, Our findings…suggest a potential link between playing football and the development of degenerative brain pathologies in later life.”
But she cautioned: “However, it is important to note that we only studied a small number of retired footballers with dementia and that we still do not know how common dementia is among footballers.”
The association between CTE and Alzheimer’s disease isn’t clear, she said. “Previous studies have shown that the risk of Alzheimer’s disease is increased in people with previous head injuries. On the other hand, the risk of dementia is also increased with age and we don’t know if these footballers would have developed Alzheimer’s disease anyway if they hadn’t played football.
“The most pressing research question is therefore to find out if dementia is more common in footballers than in the normal population.”
Full reference: Ling H, et al. Mixed pathologies including chronic traumatic encephalopathy account for dementia in retired association football (soccer) players. Acta Neuropathologica, 2017. DOI: 10.1007/s00401-017-1680-3