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According to the study, professional football players are more likely to develop dementia diseases such as Alzheimer’s

Except for the goalkeepers
Study: Professional soccer players are more likely to develop dementia

Whether this is so, and how much damage headers do to players has long been known. New findings suggest that repeated decapitation may cause permanent damage. Another study supports the suspicion that professional football players have an increased risk of developing dementia diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.

According to a Swedish study, male professional soccer players have a risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases that is about one and a half times greater than that of the general population. The researchers write in the specialized journal that the cause can be assumed to be heads The Lancet Public Health.. They evaluated health data from 6,000 quality players from Sweden’s top league over the past decades and compared it to a large comparison group of the normal population.

According to this, nine percent of the best players who played in the first division between 1924 and 2019 have developed neurodegenerative diseases during their lives so far, at a rate of one and a half times compared to the comparison group, where the percentage was six percent. . These increased risks can only be identified for field players, not goalkeepers.

Minor traumatic brain injury from the heads

“Unlike outfield players, goalkeepers rarely head the ball, but they are exposed to similar environments and lifestyles during their playing careers and possibly thereafter,” explained collaborating researcher Peter Ueda of Karolinska Institutet. It is believed that repeated minor brain injuries, such as that which can be caused by heading a ball, are the reason for the increased risk in football players. This hypothesis is supported by the now established difference between field players and goalkeepers.

The scientists explained that because most of the participants were alive at the time the data was collected, the overall lifetime risk is likely to be higher. They were stratified by individual diseases, and found clear differences: While they found the risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias was 1.6 times higher (8 vs. 5 percent) for older players, the risk of motor neuron diseases — including ALS – no higher among football players than among the rest of the population. In Parkinson’s disease it was even lower.

Risk ‘somewhat balanced by good physical fitness’

“Physical activity is associated with a lower risk of dementia, so one might suspect that the potential risk of head fall is offset to some extent by good physical fitness,” explained Bjorn Pasternak, one of the study’s lead authors at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet. This may also explain findings in Parkinson’s disease.

The researchers used the Swedish National Health Registry for their analysis. He was among the top league players considered as professionals as well as amateurs, as Swedish football clubs were only allowed to pay salaries in the 1960s.

In recent years, controversy has erupted about the long-term damages associated with brain injuries in football. A study from Scotland found that the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases is three and a half times higher in professional soccer players. “Our results confirm that professional footballers are more likely to develop these diseases throughout their lives, although we found lower risks than in the Scottish study,” Ueda said.

Is the risk higher or lower today?

The Swedish researchers cautioned that their findings have limited application in professional football today because the sport has changed. On the one hand, there is the style of play and training that aims to reduce head trauma, for example by avoiding headers after long passes. On the other hand, the risks may also be higher, because nowadays people train intensely from an early age.

Also in Germany, the correct handling of headers, especially when coaching young players, is a much discussed topic. It is reported by the German Football Association (DFB). Among other things, in the case of triceps, concentrated training with many repetitions should be avoided. In addition, light balls are used during training and modified forms of play. They do not want to completely do without heads in youth training, as there is still head cutting in games.