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Dementia in sport: Researchers to start six-month review into disease

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Researchers are to begin a six-month review into the links between sport and dementia.

Alzheimer’s Research UK and the Health Policy Partnership will try to identify why some sportspeople have an increased risk of developing the condition.

It comes amid a number of high-profile cases involving sportspeople, such as footballer Sir Bobby Charlton and rugby players Steve Thompson and Alix Popham.

Researchers hope the review could reduce future cases.

The Health Policy Partnership is a consultancy company that focuses on health policy research.

“With new evidence emerging, and the relationship between certain sports and dementia risk receiving increasing scrutiny, this review is vital to help inform the direction of future research in this area,” Hilary Evans, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said.

“We know sport brings a range of health benefits, which also are good for the brain, but the more we understand about the potential risks of sport and their contribution towards the overall risk of dementia, the better.”

In 2019, a study by Professor Willie Stewart found former footballers were about three and a half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative brain disease than the general population.

Last year, Charlton became the fifth member of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning side to be diagnosed with the condition.

England World Cup winner Thompson, ex-Wales flanker Popham and six other rugby internationals are in the process of starting a claim against the game’s authorities for negligence.

Doctors worked out Popham had sustained more than 100,000 sub-concussions during his career.

Earlier this year, the first adult 11-a-side football match with heading restrictions took place between Spennymoor Town and Team Solon.

Former Great Britain half-back Bobbie Goulding, who has been diagnosed with early onset dementia, is part of a group preparing a similar case against the Rugby Football League.

The new project will look at the current evidence base for the benefits and risks of sports and also involve consultation with clinical, research and sporting stakeholders to understand any existing gaps in knowledge.

Professor Jon Schott, Alzheimer’s Research UK’s chief medical officer, said: “While we know that one specific type of dementia – chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – is associated with head injury, there is still a limited amount of robust research in the area.

“We need a review like this to prioritise the most important questions to answer and shape research in the future.”

Christine Ridout, from the Health Policy Partnership, added: “This comprehensive review of the evidence on the risks and benefits of sport in relation to dementia will help us identify worldwide gaps in knowledge and highlight lessons that can be learnt across different countries and sports.”



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