Further evidence has emerged concerning a potential association between the practice of heading footballs and a heightened risk of long-term brain damage. This research is based on examination of the brains of small numbers of (mostly) professional footballers who went on to die from dementia, which appears to strengthen suspicions concerning the hypothetical link between the “heading” of heavy footballs repeatedly over time, subsequent occurrence of the brain injury called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and an increased risk of developing dementia at an unusually early age.
Further, more systematic, research is planned.
Football headers ‘linked to brain damage’. London: BBC Health News, February 15th 2017.
This relates to:
Ling, H., Morris, H.R., Neal, J.W. [et al] (2017). Mixed pathologies including chronic traumatic encephalopathy account for dementia in retired association football (soccer) players. Acta Neuropathologica. February 15th 2017. [Epub ahead of print].
The following NHS Choices Behind the Headlines critical appraisal provides a sense of due perspective, by discussing the inherent limitations in this type of research.
Heading footballs ‘linked to brain damage in professional players’. London: NHS Choices; Behind the Headlines, February 15th 2017.
November 2017 Update
Alan Shearer investigated the potential link between heading footballs and dementia in a BBC1 TV documentary.
‘Urgent need’ for football header research. Scotland: BBC Tayside and Central Scotland / BBC Health News, November 13th 2017.
Drake Foundation research funding:
Pym, H. (2017). £1m for football brain injury research. London: BBC Health News, November 13th 2017.
Possibly also of interest:
The cost of dementia care; the history of saving and borrowing. London: BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours, February 16th 2018.
July 2018 Update
Research using the 1946 Birth Cohort, on the incidence of degenerative neuro-cognitive disease in ex-professional footballers versus that across the normal population:
Pym, H. (2018). Is heading a football bad for your health? London: BBC Health News, July 17th 2018.
An Association With Depressive Symptoms?
There are signs of an association between depressive symptoms and recent head-related trauma (diagnosed concussion, subconcussive impacts) in semi-professional male Australian Football (AF) players.
Harris, SA. Chivers, PT. [and] McIntyre, FL. [et al] (2020). Exploring the association between recent concussion, subconcussive impacts and depressive symptoms in male Australian Football players. BMJ Open Sport and Exercise Medicine. February 20th 2020, 6(1), e000655.