FA To Research Links Between Dementia And Footballers


The Law Of… protecting sporting personnel

A recent study found that there was a significant correlation between footballers and dementia in their old age. Friends and family of the late Jeff Astley continue to fight for research into the links.   

Phillip Gower, Partner in Industrial Disease at Simpson Millar, comments on the findings and explains the correlation between dementia and footballers.  

He also asks whether sporting associations should be using this information, and how they can keep competitors safe.

Football Stars And Dementia

One of the most famous footballers to suffer from dementia was Jeff Astle. Jeff played for West Bromich Albion and gained 5 caps for the England team during the 70s. He was also famous for appearing on Fantasy Football with Frank Skinner before he was officially diagnosed with the degenerative disease. The Jeff Astle Foundation held a Gala Dinner for what would have been the footballer's 75th birthday on 13th May 2017. Meanwhile, the family of the sports star continue to push the campaign for research into the possible links between football and dementia, in order to protect future footballers.

11 well-known footballers are known to have died from the disease, with Astle’s death in 2002 sparking the subsequent campaign for research into the possible links.

Research Into The Links

Funded by the Drake Foundation, pressure was put upon the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) to initiate the research. However, the PFA said that the responsibility for such research lies with the Football Association.

The research itself involved the post-mortem of 6 retired footballers who had suffered from dementia and the findings were significant: all 6 players had suffered from a tearing to the brain membrane, which was consistent with chronic, repetitive head impacts.  

Dr Helen Ling, of UCL’s Institute of Neurology, said:

"Our findings of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) – a type of dementia – in retired footballers suggest a potential link between playing football and the development of degenerative brain pathologies in later life."

This was a small research project and the results clearly show that more must be done to protect players of the game. Earlier this year, it was announced that the FA have commissioned a much larger research project into the subject, which will take place later this year.

The FA has also managed to acquire pledges from ex-footballers to donate their brains to dementia research. 

Dementia Causes And Symptoms

Dementia describes a set of symptoms that are often caused by Alzheimer’s disease or a series of strokes. Alzheimer’s is the more common cause of dementia, but not the only one. The symptoms felt by the sufferer may differ depending on the area of the brain affected.

The most common symptoms of dementia are:

  • Day-to-day memory difficulties – for example, forgetting recent events
  • Problems concentrating, organising, or planning – for example, you may find it more difficult to make a decision or solve a problem
  • Difficulty following conversation or finding the right way to communicate yourself
  • Reduced ability in visuospatial skills – for example, you may find it difficult to judge distance or have trouble getting up the stairs
  • Becoming easily confused with where you are or losing track of the day or time

Phillip Gower comments:

"These findings have been 30 years in the making and it’s fantastic to see big names such as Frank Skinner putting their name to the campaign and raising awareness of this undeniable link."

"Justice is due to those families who have watched their loved ones suffer through dementia as a result of FA negligence."

"The FA should have taken on this responsibility a long time ago and by denying the link, they have put generations of footballers at risk. It’s pleasing that common sense has prevailed and they are now funding a wider research project."

"There must be a commitment by all sports associations to consider the health and well-being of all of their participants."

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