22 years ago, the FA were told of a potential link between dementia and football. The revelation came after the death of Danny Blanchflower, Tottenham’s double-winning captain. Aged just 67, Blanchflower’s death was preceded by years of steady decline. Medical papers published posthumously showed strong links between his death and football, suggesting that further research was needed. But the link was ignored, brushed under the carpet by officials. Now 22 years later, the FA have finally commissioned independent research to investigate. So what do they expect to find?
Post-mortems on the brains of retired players are rare. However, research funded by the Drake Foundation was granted post-mortems on six retired players. The findings were detailed and shocking. All players had evidence of a tear in the brain membrane consistent with repeated head impacts. Four of the player had degenerative brain disease, more specifically chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which was caused by brain trauma. One of the authors of the paper, Dr Helen Ling, said that: “this is the first time CTE has been confirmed in a group of retired footballers. Our findings of CTE in retired footballers suggest a potential link between playing football and the development of degenerative brain pathologies in later life.
What Can We Do To Prevent and Reduce Risk?
Although there is no certain way to prevent dementia, there is good reason to believe that lifestyle changes can help to reduce the risk.
- Keep Active – at least 30 minutes, three times a week should be enough to raise your heart rate sufficiently to bring about health benefits.
- Eat A Balanced Diet – a diet high in saturated fat, salt, and sugar can contribute high blood pressure and risk of stroke, which in turn can increase the risk of dementia.
- Give Your Brain A Daily Workout – try crosswords, Sudokus to keep your mind active and healthy.
- Control Your Health – Up your intake of omega-3 fats to support the development and structure of the brain. Supplements are a good way of ensuring your omega-3 intake.
Experts believe that these factors could reduce the risk of developing dementia by up to 30%.
What To Do If You Are Worried About Dementia And Football.
Football is a widely enjoyed sport and a sociable way to exercise. These findings don’t suggest that we should stop playing and enjoying football. Instead, it suggests that the link between dementia and football should be investigated so that we can implement preventative strategies.
If you are affected by this study, it may be useful to chat to your GP. However, it is important to remember that this research only studied a small number of footballers. It is difficult to extrapolate from this small sample. Further extensive research is needed before a link can reliably be established.
For further information, you can visit Dementia UK, who offer specialist support and advice.