New research study suggests ex-rugby players twice as likely to develop dementia

Alzheimer's Society responds to the results of new study that suggest ex-international rugby players are twice as likely to develop dementia.

Results from the FIELD (Football’s InfluencE on Lifelong health and Dementia risk) research programme has found that ex-professional international rugby players had twice the risk of developing dementia in later life than compared to the general population. 

The study compared health outcomes of 412 ex-Scotland international male rugby players and matched them with over 1,200 individuals from the general population. 
The results showed that while age at death was slightly higher among former rugby players, they were also at higher risk of a neurodegenerative disease diagnosis compared to their matched controls. This risk varied by disease subtype ranging from around a doubling of risk of a dementia diagnosis.

The FIELD programme has previously found an increased risk of certain brain diseases in former footballers.

Dr Richard Oakley, Associate Director of Research at Alzheimer's Society, said: 
'This study builds on previous research suggesting a link between football and increased risk of developing dementia - and has found that international rugby players are twice as likely to develop brain diseases, such as those that cause dementia, in later life.  
'However, more research is needed to understand what lies behind this link, so we can more accurately predict who may be at greater risk of developing dementia after exposure to brain injury, and therefore put in place appropriate measures to protect players.

This is a complex area and we want to reassure people that while people should be aware of the risks, they shouldn’t be put off from physical activity.

'Through programmes like this and the Alzheimer’s Society-funded PREVENT-RFC, which is studying elite rugby players, we will continue to widen our knowledge of the risks involved.
'As part of our Sport United Against Dementia campaign we will also continue to be a vital source of support to any former player affected by dementia, through our dedicated referral pathways with leading sporting bodies, including rugby.
'Research will beat dementia – but we need the Government to deliver on recent pledges to double dementia research funding by 2024, including by providing the additional £95m in ringfenced investment promised through the National Dementia Mission.'

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