Contact sports, head injury and dementia risk

6. What is Alzheimer's Society calling for?

Due to the increasing evidence that physical exercise can reduce risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s Society and other experts agree that people should not be put off playing sport due to worries about head injuries and dementia risk. 

Professional sporting bodies have a duty of care to their players to protect their health, both at the present time and in the long term. Whilst the risks of head injury are not fully known, professional bodies should take all reasonable steps to minimise the chances of head injury occurring within the rules of the game and ensure that management of head injuries is taken seriously at all levels of the game. Studies examining the risk of concussion in rugby show no reduction in head injury or concussion from wearing headgear, with the conclusion that padded headgear does not reduce the rate of head injury or concussion (e.g. McIntosh et al, 2009).  As such, there is no current requirement to call for the use of compulsory headgear during all sports.

There are significant research opportunities to provide clarity in this important area, and to ensure that short and long-term safety management and monitoring of head injury during sport is implemented at all levels.

The need to maintain independence of research is important. Whilst the Society welcomes recent commitments to fund research in to head injury by professional sporting bodies, is it important that this is done in a transparent way that ensures confidence in any outcomes or conclusions. Independent organisations may be able to facilitate research in this way.