Head­ing in foot­ball: Study re­veals new facts

The Star Late Edition - - SPORT -

LON­DON: Sci­en­tists have found signs of brain dam­age that could cause de­men­tia in a hand­ful of for­mer soc­cer play­ers, fu­elling wor­ries about the dan­ger of fre­quent knocks from head­ing the ball or col­lid­ing with oth­ers on the field.

The small study was the first of its kind in­volv­ing post-mortems on six men who died with de­men­tia af­ter long ca­reers play­ing soc­cer.

All were skilled head­ers of the ball.

It sug­gests that some pro­fes­sional soc­cer play­ers might risk the same long-term cog­ni­tive prob­lems that are suf­fered by box­ers and some Amer­i­can foot­ball play­ers.

But ex­perts said more re­search was needed to prove any de­fin­i­tive link be­tween head­ing a foot­ball and de­vel­op­ing de­men­tia, and they added that the risk was likely to be min­i­mal for oc­ca­sional play­ers.

“We’ve demon­strated that the same type of pathol­ogy that oc­curs in ex-box­ers can also oc­cur in some ex-foot­ballers who have de­men­tia, but I’d em­pha­sise this is a very small num­ber of play­ers,” said co-lead re­searcher Huw Mor­ris of Lon­don’s UCL In­sti­tute of Neu­rol­ogy.

“The av­er­age play­ing ca­reer of these play­ers was 26 years, which is thou­sands of hours of game play­ing, thou­sands of hours of prac­tice and thou­sands of head­ers … I think the risk is ex­tremely low from play­ing recre­ational foot­ball.”

Soc­cer is the most pop­u­lar sport in the world and sci­en­tists said the dan­ger of head in­juries had to be weighed against the game’s known ben­e­fits in im­prov­ing car­dio­vas­cu­lar health, which ac­tu­ally re­duces the like­li­hood of de­vel­op­ing de­men­tia.

The study, pub­lished in the jour­nal Acta Neu­ropatho­log­ica yes­ter­day, fol­lowed 14 re­tired soc­cer play­ers with de­men­tia and se­cured next-of-kin per­mis­sion for post­mortem ex­am­i­na­tions for six of them.

The sci­en­tists found ev­i­dence of chronic trau­matic en­cephalopa­thy (CTE), a po­ten­tial cause of de­men­tia, in four of the six brains.

All six also had signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

CTE is com­mon in ex-box­ers and has been linked to pro­gres­sive mem­ory, be­havioural and mo­tor im­pair­ment.

Un­like box­ing or Amer­i­can foot­ball, blows to the head in soc­cer are gen­er­ally lower im­pact and play­ers are less likely to ex­pe­ri­ence con­cus­sion.

But there may still be cu­mu­la­tive dam­age from sub­con­cus­sive im­pacts, ex­perts be­lieve.

Bri­tain’s Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion said more work was needed into whether de­gen­er­a­tive brain disease was more com­mon in ex-foot­ballers, adding it planned to jointly fund re­search with the Pro­fes­sional Foot­ballers’ As­so­ci­a­tion. – Reuters

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