Soccer

FA and PFA study finds increased dementia risk in ex-footballers

The FA and PFA jointly commissioned the FOCUS study (Mike Egerton/PA)
The FA and PFA jointly commissioned the FOCUS study (Mike Egerton/PA) The FA and PFA jointly commissioned the FOCUS study (Mike Egerton/PA)

Former professional footballers are almost three and a half times more likely to be diagnosed with dementia than the general population, according to a study commissioned by the Football Association and Professional Footballers’ Association.

First findings of the FOCUS study, conducted by the University of Nottingham, support previous research that former footballers may be at higher risk of neurocognitive disease.

The new report states that 2.8 per cent of retired professional footballers in their study reported medically diagnosed dementia and other neurodegenerative disease compared to 0.9 percent of controls.

This means former pros in the study were found to be 3.46 times more likely to have neurodegenerative diseases compared to the control group.

The study also showed retired footballers in the study were twice as likely to fall below established thresholds in some dementia testing than the general population.

Dr Charlotte Cowie, the FA’s head of medicine, told the governing body’s website: “The FA and the PFA jointly commissioned the FOCUS study in order to gain additional insight into the findings of the FIELD study, and to further examine any potential link between neurodegenerative disorders in former professional footballers.

“The FOCUS study worked with an established group of former professional footballers that were participating in research and was able to review their brain health, and it supports the previous findings in the FIELD study which suggest an increased risk for neurodegenerative disease in former professional footballers than in the general population.

“This is an extremely complex area of our game, but we are committed to working collectively with our stakeholders to help grow our knowledge in this area through further medical and expert analysis.”

The initial findings of the FOCUS study will be shared with both FIFA and UEFA, and the FA has reiterated its support for further research from across the wider game to help build a better understanding of players’ brain health and well-being.

“This is an important new study which supports previous evidence suggesting that footballers are at greater risk of dementia and poorer cognitive functioning in later life,” said the PFA’s head of brain health Dr Adam White.

“Studies such as this… ensure that targeted and evidence-led action can be identified and taken to support and protect players at all stages of their career.

“Continued investment in this type of research will remain absolutely vital.”

An FA statement read: “The FA has led the way in taking steps to help reduce potential risk factors within the game (including) establishing industry-leading concussion guidelines, introducing the world’s most comprehensive heading guidance at every level of the professional and amateur game in England, and implementing a new trial to remove deliberate heading in football matches across under-12 level and below.

“Further findings from the FOCUS study will be published in due course.”