In Depth

Dementia in football: FA and PFA commission new study

15,000 former professional players will take part in the research

A new study is being launched to investigate the links between dementia and the long-term effects of playing football. 

Commissioned by the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) and the Football Association (FA), the independent research will look at the incidence of degenerative neurocognitive disease in ex-professional footballers.

Titled Football’s Influence on Lifelong Health and Dementia Risk (Field), the study - by Dr William Stewart and colleagues at the University of Glasgow and the city’s Hampden Sports Clinic - is scheduled to start in January. The PFA says it is designed to look at a “wide range of physical and mental health outcomes including neurodegenerative disease”. 

Approximately 15,000 former professional footballers will take part and the results will be compared to health data on the general population.

Dr Stewart, a consultant neuropathologist at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, said: “In the past decade there have been growing concerns around perceived increased risk of dementia through participation in contact sports. However, research data to support and quantify this risk have been lacking.

“Through the Field study we hope to be able to provide some understanding of the long-term health impact of football within the next two to three years.” 

Martin Glenn, the FA’s chief executive, added: “This new research will be one the most comprehensive studies ever commissioned into the long-term health of former footballers.

“Dementia can have a devastating effect and, as the governing body of English football, we felt compelled to commission a significant new study in order to fully understand if there are any potential risks associated with playing the game.”

Dementia in football was the topic of a recent BBC documentary presented by former England striker Alan Shearer.

In Alan Shearer: Dementia, Football and Me, the Match of the Day pundit highlighted the case of Jeff Astle, the former England striker who died in 2002 at the age of 59. His death was caused by repeated head trauma. 

In 2014, the BBC reported that Dr Stewart had carried out a new examination of Astle’s brain and he concluded that the former West Brom striker was killed by chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) caused by heading heavy leather footballs.

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