According to a new study, footballers are more likely to develop poorer brain health after age 65 than the general population.
The Scores project, based at the University of East Anglia, assessed 145 former footballers.
It found that the cognitive function and brain health of former players between the ages of 40 and 50 performed better than the general population in the same age bracket.
But former players over the age of 65 fare poorly compared to their counterparts.
“We know that regular exercise is really good for brain health and our research confirms that professional footballers have improved brain health in their 40s compared to non-footballers,” said the lead researcher and concussion expert. , Dr. Michael Gray.
“The physical exercise associated with professional football keeps their bodies and brains in top shape and that extends into their retirement.
“But when they hit 65, that’s when things start to go wrong. Those over 65 performed worse when assessed for things like reaction time, executive function and spatial navigation are warning signs of deteriorating brain health.
“It shows us that the exercise associated with football is good for the brain, but the negative effects of contact sport start to show up later in life.”
In 2019, a study by Professor Willie Stewart found that former footballers were about three and a half times more likely to die from a neurodegenerative brain disease than the general population.
A series of high-profile cases of former players with dementia, including England’s 1966 World Cup winner Sir Bobby Charlton, led to a campaign for more research into the matter.
In May, the Professional Footballers’ Association launches new brain injury consultationasking worried former players to come forward.
New guidelines issued last July said professional footballers in England will be limited to 10 “upper-strength headers” per week in training from the 2021-22 season.
Dr Gray accepts the results of the Scores data – which stands for Screening Cognitive Outcomes after Repetitive head impact Exposure in Sport – is only a first picture and that a larger sample size is now needed to provide even more in-depth insights and insights. more refined age comparisons.
“These assessments are ongoing and participants are being monitored for changes in brain health over time, so we hope to follow our cohort of former footballers for the rest of their lives. This will give us a very clear picture of the potential damage from heading the ball,” he said.
“This research highlights the need to investigate ways to limit brain damage when people play sports and to monitor brain health as we age.”
He is working with the Association of Professional Footballers to recruit more participants.