Study reveals dementia risk in former professional football players – Alzheimer’s Society comment

A study led by the University of Glasgow has revealed the first major insights into lifelong health outcomes in former professional football players.

In findings published today in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers compared the causes of death of 7,676 former Scottish male professional football players who were born between 1900 and 1976 against those of more than 23,000 matched individuals from the general population. 

The study found that former professional football players had an approximately three and a half times higher rate of death due to neurodegenerative disease than expected.

Dr James Pickett, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Society, said:

'This is the longest and largest study on dementia and football to date and clearly shows retired professional footballers are at increased risk of dementia. But, it doesn’t say anything about the risk of a Saturday kick about in the park.

'It also doesn’t explain why playing professional football might be increasing someone’s risk of dementia and more studies looking at changes in the brain will help us do this.

There have been changes in the game of football over the decades, for instance heavy leather balls used in the past have been replaced with the lighter latex and plastic ones used today, and the risks for the modern day professional footballer may be different.

'So if you love kicking a ball around with your friends and family after work, don’t feel put off – what’s good for the heart is good for the head.

'If you are worried or concerned about your risk of dementia, the Alzheimer’s Society Helpline is here to help on 0300 222 1122.'

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