Heading the ball may lead to an increased risk of dementia

Footballers could be risking dementia by suffering repeated minor injuries when they head the ball

"The expert panel further agreed that research is particularly required into the issue of whether degenerative brain disease is more common in ex-footballers". Symptoms of CTE include memory loss, emotional and behavioural problems, and loss of impulse control.

"Our findings show there is a potential link between repetitive head impacts from playing football and the later development of CTE", lead author Dr. Helen Ling of the UCL Institute of Neurology told The Associated Press.

While the study results certainly suggest a link between soccer and late-life degenerative brain diseases, the sample size is too small to determine conclusively that the former causes the latter. "However, it is important to note that we only studied a small number of retired footballers with dementia and that we still do not know how common dementia is among footballers". However, these results do not provide proof that heading a football, or sustaining a head injury by any other means during the sport, is linked to developing dementia.

In this October 18, 1969 file photo, Chelsea's Eddie McCreadie, second right, kicks clear from scrimmage in front West Bromwich's Jeff Astle, left, during the English League Division one soccer match.

Astle's daughter, Dawn, called on current players and families of players to pledge to donate their brains to medical researchers.

Dawn Astle said he went from being "fit as a fiddle to just a shell", adding: "He was surrounded by England caps, FA Cup winners' medals, everything he'd won in football - he remembered none of it".

Until the publication of Tuesday's paper, only four soccer players were known to have CTE: Astle, Brazilian star Bellini, amateur American player Patrick Grange, and Curtis Baushke, who played youth soccer through high school. However, Professor Hardy says footballers in the modern era may still be at risk: "Today's players are more athletic, and I think the lighter ball is kicked harder and so it's not clear that it's less impact". From Swansea in south Wales, Williams monitored the retired players and collected data on their playing and concussion history.

Nobby Stiles jumps up for the ball with Portugal's Eusebio during the 1966 Wold Cup semi-final
Nobby Stiles jumps up for the ball with Portugal's Eusebio during the 1966 Wold Cup semi-final

Study co-lead author Dr. Huw Morris, a neurologist, said researchers don't know exactly what causes CTE in soccer players or how great the risk may be.

One Premier League club will be involved in the study.

"Benefits of sports are well established for mental and physical health".

According to the Daily Telegraph, the UEFA investigation will count the number of times children head the ball, with over 1,000 children being filmed across two age ranges - eight-12 and 14-16.

According to Ling, more studies need to be conducted because of the small sample size: The findings can not be applied to a wider scale as of yet, and more research needs to be done in order to see whether or not dementia is more common in soccer players than the in the average population.

But should football be a concern, too?In a study to be published this week, British scientists investigating the autopsies on six retired professional footballers with dementia found they had a form of the disease associated with blows to the head, perhaps from headers.

A large study following up footballers without dementia is now needed to see who develops the condition. "To this end we have recently agreed with the PFA to jointly fund the research project as we believe that a collaborative approach will strengthen the credibility and resource available to the project".

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