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Footballers at increased risk of developing dementia, study finds

A new study has shown that footballers are about one-half times more likely than the general population to develop dementia.

Researchers from Sweden compared the health records 6 0007 elite male footballers – of whom 510 were goalkeepers- to 56,168 nonfootballers between 1924-19 2019.

The study was published by the Karolinska Institutet as well as other research centers.

It was found that 9% of footballers were diagnosed with neurodegenerative disorder. This compares with 6% (3.485 out 56.168) in the control sample.


According to the study, there was no significant increase in risk for footballers contracting motor neurone diseases.

Researchers found that football players had a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease or overall death than other people.

According to the researchers, this could be due to “good physical fitness” from playing football frequently.

The study also examined the risk of neurodegenerative diseases among outfield players and goalkeepers. The study found that outfield players were at 1.4 times greater risk for neurodegenerative diseases than goalkeepers.

Peter Ueda is an assistant professor at Karolinska Institut. He said that goalkeepers are not often the ones who head the ball like outfield players but they are exposed to similar environments and lifestyles throughout their football careers, and maybe even after retirement.

“It has been suggested that repetitive mild head trauma from heading the ball can be the cause of increased risk for football players. It could also be that there is a difference in risk for neurodegenerative diseases between the two types of players.”

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There have been increasing concerns over the possibility of exposure to football head trauma and whether this could lead to a higher risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases later in life.

An earlier study in Scotland found that footballers are 3.5 times more likely than others to develop neurodegenerative diseases.

Several football associations took measures to reduce the likelihood of players heading at younger ages and in training environments.

Mr Ueda said: “While our risk increase is slightly lower than the previous study from Scotland it confirms the fact that elite footballers are at greater risk for neurogenerative diseases later in their lives.”

“As there is growing demand from the sport for greater protection of brain health, our research adds to the lack of evidence and can be used as a guide to make decisions about how to manage these risk.”

The Football Association is currently testing banning children younger than 12 years old from leading the ball in grassroots leagues or competitions in England.


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