Half of the surviving members of England’s 1966 winning World Cup team have been living with significant memory problems and Alzheimer’s since their sixties. Why is this number so high? Is there an association between playing football (and other sports) and suffering dementia?
University College London and Cardiff University recently published compelling, and worrying results strongly correlating heading a football to early onset dementia. Whilst it is acknowledged that further research (and funding for larger studies) is required, the various small studies to date have consistently demonstrated a possible causative link between repeated head trauma and memory loss, depression and dementia.
In response to the findings, the Football Association has been urged to consider a ban on children under 10 doing headers in training and matches due to their more fragile skulls.
Whilst this proposal is currently being considered, it is welcome news that UEFA has agreed in the meantime to fund larger scale research on the issue. This research project, which began on 17 February 2017 falls heavy on the back of former England and West Brom striker Jeff Astle, who died aged 59 suffering from early onset dementia. Sadly, by the end of his life, he did not even know that he had been a footballer. The coroner’s inquest found that repeatedly heading heavy leather footballs had likely contributed to his illness due to the trauma suffered to his brain as a result.
The warnings have not been restricted to the football world. Last Autumn, American football’s National Football League (NFL) announced an intention to spend the equivalent of £80m on medical and engineering research into increased protection for players. This followed an £800m compensation pay-out to 5,000 former players who had suffered brain injuries were shown to be due to repeated head trauma.
Worldwide rugby associations are similarly examining the long-term impact to mental health due to the prevalence of frequent concussion suffered by players during a game.
The recent research has prompted British sporting legends George Cohen and Pat Crerand (both 77) to pledge to donate their brains to medical research to help improve understanding in this area, ‘as long as their surviving relatives agree’.
To ensure such wishes are upheld, we at the LPA Advice Company would strongly recommend to anyone looking to similarly assist medical research in this way, to consider creating specific instructions within a Health LPA which require the Attorneys to work with the medical professionals to quickly preserve their brain for to this purpose. Simply indicating this desire within a Will could more often than not be far too late for the surviving tissues to be of any useful purpose. More information can be obtained here: www.hta.gov.uk/guidance-public/brain-donation
LPA Advice Company,