Greater risk of dementia in football players

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Top male football players are 1.5 times more likely to develop a form of dementia compared to the general population. This is the conclusion of an observational cohort study published in The Lancet Public Health by Peter Ueda et al. (Karolinska Institute, Stockholm).

Of the Swedish (male) football players who had played in the top division from 1924 to 2019, 9% (537 out of 6007) developed a neurodegenerative disease, more precisely Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, compared to 6% (3485 of 56 168) in a control group, whose members were matched by age, gender and region with the soccer players. The researchers used data taken from Sweden’s national health registers. Ueda et al. mapped the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, ALS and Parkinson’s disease. They also compared the risks between outfield players and goalkeepers. It showed that field players had a 1.4 times higher risk of a neurodegenerative disease than goalkeepers. Frequent heading is seen as the culprit; keepers rarely do this.

It is not the first time that the risks of headlines have received attention in the scientific literature. Previous Scottish research found that football players were 3.5 times more likely to develop a neurodegenerative disease.

In an explanation, first author Ueda notes that although the risk in his study is smaller than in the Scottish study, it is nevertheless reconfirmed that football players run a greater risk of dementia in particular later in life. The slightly lower overall mortality among the football players also indicates that their health was otherwise somewhat better than that of the general population.

https://doi.org/10.1016/S2468-2667(23)00027-0

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