Can repeatedly heading a football lead to dementia?

Heading a football repeatedly may be a factor in the development of dementia, a study has found.

Researchers gathered data on 14 retired footballers with dementia and followed them up regularly over 20 years until their death. The brains of six of the footballers were examined post-mortem.

Four of the six showed evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – brain injury at the front of the brain linked to boxing and other contact sports.

Researchers also found evidence of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of neurodegeneration, suggesting various factors contributed to the dementia.

All of the footballers were keen headers of the ball. They had played the sport for an average of 26 years.

Dr David Reynolds, of the charity Alzheimer’s UK, said recreational football was unlikely to cause long-term problems and the benefits of exercise outweighed the risks.

He said: ‘The condition is caused by a combination of age, lifestyle and genetic factors… Further research is needed.’

The study was published in the journal Acta Neuropathologica.

Instant analysis
It has long been suggested that repeated heading of a heavy football may have an impact on cognitive functioning in later life to the point of being given the name chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — a neurodegenerative process typically at the front of the brain.

This clinic-pathological study followed up 14 retired footballers with dementia and examined the brains of five people who had been professional footballers and one who had been a committed amateur throughout his life. All six went on to develop dementia in their 60s. At post-mortem CTE was found in four cases and was linked to past prolonged exposure to repetitive head impacts from head-to-player collisions and heading the ball thousands of times in their careers.

Although a definitive link cannot be established in such a small clinic-pathological study, it is highly suggestive and should support calls for protective strategies for sports people exposed to repeated low-level head impact.
Research score: 4/5

  • 100

    No scientific proof that it can lead to dementia, but it can lead to a seriously unhealthy obsession of getting a knighthood.

  • stuartMilan

    no, but watching England can…

  • Terence Hale

    This addresses fundamental questions, look what happened to David Beckham

  • Poot

    Yes. Look at that t^t Blair.

  • M.Robinson

    This puzzles me. Bearing in mind that women are statistically more likely to get dementia, maybe heading a football is men’s way of catching up.

  • Hmm…researchers gathered data on 14 retired football players with brain damage (dementia) and four had even greater brain damage (CTE), according to dissection of those four brains. Can you say, “Fishing for the results one wants to point a finger at?” I knew you could! Can you also say, “Marxist attempt to destroy the martial abilities of the West’s males”? I knew you could too! By the way, the same bogus fishing methodology was used to claim that American football players have higher incidence of CTE, though of course the comparison group wasn’t the American population, but a small number of football players (79) already suffering from – you guessed it – dementia!

    Regarding the American cases, a movie, ‘Concussion’, came out in 2015

    based on the blatantly unscientific study conducted by Dr. Bennet Omalu where

    76 of 79 brains studied of retired NFL football players showed symptoms of chronic

    traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
    Firstly, as any research methodology course will instruct, the sample
    number of 79 is too small to make any judgement calls regarding the
    population (the population being all retired football players); secondly
    there’s no comparison group! A comparison group is critical to
    determine if there is a statistically significant difference between the
    sample under investigation and the larger public; and thirdly the
    sample wasn’t randomly selected, the sample of 79 were subjects that
    when alive were already displaying symptoms. This is called ‘fishing’ to
    accept the study’s alternative hypothesis: When a scientific study is
    designed there are two hypotheses to be tested:

    1. Null Hypothesis: There is no difference between the sample under investigation and the public; and

    2. Alternative Hypothesis: There is a difference between the sample under investigation and the public.

    Of course, Dr. Bennet Omalu’s ‘study’ wasn’t even attempting to affirm the
    alternative hypothesis, because his ‘study’ didn’t have a null
    hypothesis to begin with! In other words, there is no scientific study.

    Dr.Bennet Omalu’s fraud goes beyond his ‘study’ however. The quack doctor
    even takes credit for discovering and naming the disease, though the
    disease was known by the medical community in the 1920s and in 1949 was given the name chronic traumatic encephalopathy by British neurologist Macdonald Critchley.

    The purpose behind Dr. Bennet Omalu’s fraudulent study is to bring about the slow disappearance of
    American football, American football being one of the best means to
    teach children the ‘warrior’ ethic of team-playing, controlled rough
    contact and strategy, and in the United States there’s no other sport
    than American football that can teach children those three critical

    For the real news, read my blog…

  • Father Todd Unctious

    Not sure about heading balls, but having a spray on perma tan , a Bangkok ladyboy partner and advice from Steve Bannon will get you there.