Tuesday February 25, 2020

Former Professional Soccer Players More Likely to Die from Dementia

Over a median of 18 years of study, 1,180 players and 3,807 of the others died

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Soccer, Players, Dementia
FILE - In this Oct. 11, 2019, file image taken with a slow shutter speed a soccer player runs for the ball during the Euro 2020 group A qualifying soccer match in Prague, Czech Republic. VOA

A study of former professional soccer players in Scotland finds that they were less likely to die of common causes such as heart disease and cancer compared with the general population but more likely to die from dementia. The results raise fresh concerns about head-related risks from playing the sport — at least for men at the pro level.

Researchers from the University of Glasgow reported the results in the New England Journal of Medicine on Monday. They compared the causes of death of 7,676 Scottish men who played soccer with 23,000 similar men from the general population born between 1900 and 1976. Over a median of 18 years of study, 1,180 players and 3,807 of the others died.

The players had a lower risk of death from any cause until age 70.

However, they had a 3.5 times higher rate of death from neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. In absolute terms, that risk remained relatively small — 1.7% among former players and 0.5% for the comparison group.

Soccer, Players, Dementia
Researchers from the University of Glasgow reported the results in the New England Journal of Medicine on Monday. Pixabay

Former players also were more likely to be prescribed dementia medicines than the others were.

The results “should not engender undue fear and panic,” Dr. Robert Stern, a Boston University scientist who has studied sports-related brain trauma, wrote in a commentary published in the journal.

The findings in professional players may not apply to recreational, college or amateur-level play, or to women, Stern noted.

“Parents of children who headed the ball in youth or high-school soccer should not fear that their children are destined to have cognitive decline and dementia later in life. Rather, they should focus on the substantial health benefits from exercise and participation in a sport that their children enjoy,” while also being aware of the risks of head-balling, Stern wrote.

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English Football Association chairman Greg Clark said “the whole game must recognize that this is only the start of our understanding and there are many questions that still need to be answered. It is important that the global football family now unites to find the answers and provide a greater understanding of this complex issue.”

The association and players’ union sponsored the study.

“We need to kick on now and understand what it means, because that’s all an awful lot we don’t know,” English FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said. “We don’t know if concussion was the cause or whether it was heading or whatever or whether it’s the old heavy ball or something entirely different.”

But the association’s medical advisory group has not deemed it necessary to issue to change how the game is played, even reducing heading among younger age groups.

 

Soccer, Players, Dementia
They compared the causes of death of 7,676 Scottish men who played soccer with 23,000 similar men from the general population born between 1900 and 1976. Pixabay

“In youth football, you might want to reduce the likelihood of aerial challenges,” Bullingham said. “But our research shows this has already been reduced significantly over the years as we change to small size of pitches, move to possession-based football and now rolling substitutes.”

Referees across all levels can stop games for three minutes to fully assess head injuries, but some experts believe that is not long enough. The English FA also is pushing soccer’s global lawmaking body for the introduction of concussion substitutes, with an additional player switch or as a temporary replacement.

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Campaigning to discover more about the long-term impact of head injuries in soccer has been led in England by the family of former England striker Jeff Astle, whose death at age 59 in 2002 was attributed to repeatedly heading heavy, leather balls. In 2017, a British study of brains of a small number of retired players who developed dementia highlighted the degenerative damage possibly caused by repeated blows to the head. (VOA)

Next Story

Taller Men Are at a Lower Risk of Dementia in Old Age: Study

Taller men may have lower dementia risk in old age

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dementia
Men who are taller in young adulthood may have a lower risk of dementia in old age. Pixabay

Men who are taller in young adulthood may have a lower risk of dementia in old age, according to a new health news and research.

Previous studies have suggested that height may be a risk factor for dementia, but much of this research was not able to take into account genetic, environmental, or other early-life factors that may be linked to both height and dementia.

“We wanted to see if body height in young men is associated with diagnosis of dementia, while exploring whether intelligence test scores, educational level, and underlying environmental and genetic factors shared by brothers explain the relationship,” said lead author Terese Sara Hoj Jorgensen from University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

For the findings, published in the journal eLife, researchers analysed data on 666,333 Danish men born between 1939 and 1959, including 70,608 brothers and 7,388 twins, from Danish national registries.

dementia
Previous studies have suggested that height may be a risk factor for dementia, but much of this research was not able to take into account genetic, environmental, or other early-life factors. Pixabay

They found a total of 10,599 men who developed dementia later in life.

Their adjusted analysis of this group showed that there was about a 10 per cent reduction in the risk of developing dementia for about every 6cm of height in individuals above the average height.

When the team took into account the potential role of intelligence or education, the unadjusted relationship between height and dementia risk was only slightly reduced.

They found that the relationship between height and dementia also existed when they looked at brothers with different heights, suggesting that genetics and family characteristics alone do not explain why shorter men had a greater dementia risk.

“A key strength of our study is that it adjusted for the potential role of education and intelligence in young men’s dementia risk, both of which may build up cognitive reserve and make this group less vulnerable to developing dementia,” said study senior author Merete Osler.

‘Cognitive reserve’ refers to the brain’s ability to improvise and solve problems that come up in everyday life.

Adjusting for education and intelligence reduces the likelihood that the relationship between height and dementia is really explained by cognitive reserve, the researchers said.

“Together, our results point to an association between taller body height in young men and a lower risk of dementia diagnosis later in life, which persists even when adjusted for educational level and intelligence test scores,” Osler said.

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“Our analysis of the data concerning brothers confirms these findings, and suggests the association may have common roots in early-life environmental exposures that are not related to family factors shared by brothers,” she added. (IANS)