The English football governing body, the FA, have revealed this week its plans for a six-figure study to examine the link between football and dementia, with the goal to discover if it is, in fact, more prevalent in former footballers than the rest of the population.
“We are taking it seriously”, said FA chief executive Martin Glenn at the annual meeting of the International Football Association Board.
The study shares similarities to a study launched last month by the Union of European Football Associations. While also concerned about the link between football and dementia, UEFA stated its study was more concerned with younger players, stating it “aims to help establish the risk posed to young players during matches and training sessions”.
The Hidden Damage
These studies are in light of an increasing pressure to look into the link between football and dementia. Many English football authorities have been criticised over a seeming reluctance to look into the issue, as well as covering up discoveries of former footballers who have later gone on to develop Alzheimer’s or Dementia.
“I don’t know why the FA and the PFA have covered this up for years,” said Ian St John on the Victorian Derbyshire BBC show. Ian St John played for English football club Liverpool between 1961-71, who reported that six of his former teammates now have Alzheimer’s.
Outside of the UK
Outside of England, many countries have instigated programs to help prevent injuries in sports that may lead to dementia. Back in September 2016, the American football’s National Football League announced it would be spending $100m on research to help provide extra protection for players to reduce the risk of brain-related injuries such as dementia.
Here in Australia, studies have also been undertaken to help better understand the link between other high contact sports and dementia. In March 2014, a study published in the Journal of Neurotrauma tested the motor control skills and reaction times of previous AFL football players and people of the same age who had not played the sport.
Dr Alan Pearce, the lead researcher on the project said that “Using this technique, we found that sports players’ brains were becoming more inhibited over time compared to those who didn’t play sport”.
The Future of Dementia Day Care
While there is still no definitive link between high contact sports like football and dementia, if one is found, it could pose an even greater strain on an already struggling dementia day care industry.
Alzheimer’s Australia reported last month that this year alone, dementia will cost Australia $14 billion. It is estimated that by 2025, this cost will rise to $18 billion, which will soar to more than $36 billion in less than 40 years.
These rising numbers will only put greater pressure on the dementia day care industry. If a link between dementia and high contact sports like football is found, it can begin to help understand and limit the possibility of dementia occurring later in life.