Wednesday November 20, 2019

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

Improved Cardiorespiratory Fitness linked To Lower Dementia Risk

Researchers have linked increased fitness with lower dementia risk

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fitness
Researchers have found that increased fitness is strongly linked to lower dementia risk. Pixabay

Researchers have found that improvement in cardiorespiratory fitness is strongly linked to lower dementia risk.

“It is important to say that it is never too late to begin exercising. The average participant in our study was around 60 years old at baseline, and improvement in cardiorespiratory fitness was strongly linked to lower dementia risk, said study researcher Atefe Tari from Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Norway.

Those who had poor fitness in the 1980s but improved it within the next decade could expect to live two years longer without dementia,” Tari said.

For the study, published in the journal Lancet Digital Health, between 1984 and 1986, almost 75,000 Norwegians participated in the first wave of the HUNT Survey (HUNT1).

11 years later, HUNT2 was organised, and 33,000 of the same people participated.

More than 30,000 of them answered enough questions to be included in Tari’s analyses.

The researchers calculated cardiorespiratory fitness with a formula previously developed and validated by the researchers, called the Fitness Calculator.

The study links results from the Fitness Calculator to the risk of dementia and dementia-related deaths up to 30 years later.

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It’s never too late to start exercising to improve your fitness. Pixabay

To investigate these associations, Tari has used data from two different databases, the Health and Memory Study in Nord-Trondelag and the Norwegian Cause of Death Registry.

Between 1995 and 2011, 920 people with dementia were included in the Health and Memory Study in Nord-Trondelag.

A total of 320 of them had also participated in both HUNT1 and HUNT2 and provided enough information about their own health to be included in the analyses.

It turned out that poor cardiorespiratory fitness in both the 1980s and 1990s was significantly more common in this group than among otherwise comparable HUNT participants who had not been diagnosed with dementia.

In fact, the risk of developing dementia was 40 per cent lower for those who were among the 80 per cent with the best fitness in both the 1980s and 1990s.

Furthermore, it was 48 per cent lower if one had changed from poor to higher fitness levels between the two surveys.

All participants were followed until death or end of follow-up in the summer of 2016.

The researchers found 814 women and men who had died from or with dementia during the period.

This means that dementia was stated as the underlying, immediate or additional cause of death.The risk was lowest for those who had good fitness at both HUNT surveys.

However, also those who had changed from poor to better fitness over the years had a 28 per cent reduced risk.

The study provides evidence that maintaining good fitness is also good for the brain.

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“High-intensity exercise improves fitness faster than moderate exercise, and we recommend that everyone exercise with a high heart rate at least two days each week,” Tari said.

“Low fitness is an independent risk factor for dementia and death due to dementia,” the authors concluded. (IANS)