Footwork in Focus – Dementia in Football




There is an ongoing debate about whether contact sports and heading the ball in football causes dementia and creates long-term brain injuries for sports players. We look at both sides of the debate including why some people are asking whether heading the ball in football should be banned. 

What is Dementia?

Dementia is the term used for lots of medical conditions that affect how the brain works. Some of the common symptoms of dementia include: 

The most common cause is Alzheimer’s disease, which makes up 60-80% of dementia cases in the U.K. Alzheimer’s disease affects how a person’s brain functions. Important areas of the brain lose their connection with other important parts of the body. 

Dementia can begin a decade or more before it’s noticed in patients.It can slowly impact someone’s life over many years and symptoms may get worse over time. Damage to the brain can affect a person’s ability to look after themselves properly too and everyday tasks, such as shopping, driving or preparing meals, become more difficult. 

Dementia and football – what the Experts Say

Studies have taken place over the past decade to offer more information on how head injuries in sports can cause dementia. 

A 2019 study conducted by the University of Glasgow in Scotland found professional football players have a higher risk of developing dementia if they header the ball more often. It also reported that ex-footballers were three and half times more likely to die from brain disease compared to the general population. As a result, the Football Association (FA) banned heading the ball for children aged under 11 in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

Another study from University of British Columbia in 2018, found damage to nerves within the brain can be affected if a player regularly headers a football. But, the same study also revealed that a single header is very unlikely to cause any problems. 

However, some people have argued that heading should not be banned until more results prove that heading the ball definitely causes dementia. The Football Association’s medical chief Charlotte Cowie said in December 2020 that no changes should be made to heading the ball until solid evidence has proved the risks.

Scientists say that more studies need to take place to further prove the links between dementia and sports, such as rugby and football.

In the next year, and beyond, more research will be published on the condition.

Other Causes of Dementia

While some researchers have found some evidence to explain how repeated head injuries or heading a football can cause damage to the brain, scientists point out that dementia can be caused by many things.

For instance, choices to smoke, drink alcohol or being overweight also contribute to dementia. Age and genetics (if the condition runs in the family) are also factors that could cause the condition. . 

Scientists say that more studies need to take place to further prove the links between dementia and sports, such as rugby and football.

 In the next year, and beyond, more research will be published on the condition. For example, three universities are now studying how 300 ex-football players , aged between 50 and 85, perform in memory and function tests to see if more links can be made between football and dementia. 

Do you think heading the ball in football causes problems? 

Should heading the ball be banned in football? 

Get in touch to let us know your thoughts on our ‘Footwork in Focus’ article.

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