Former professional football players are “three and a half times” more likely to die of dementia than the general population, a major new study has revealed.
The report, published by the University of Glasgow, confirms longstanding fears that repeated heading of a football can cause lifelong health problems.
The research – which is the first to offer such an insight – compared the causes of death of 7,676 former Scottish male professional football players who were born between 1900 and 1976 against 23,000 non-playing individuals.
It found that the professional athletes had approximately three and a half times higher rate of death due to neurodegenerative disease, such as Alzheimer’s, compared to those who didn’t play football.
However, footballers were, unsurprisingly, less at risk of dying of heart and lung disease, balancing out rates of deaths.
Including these findings, the researchers concluded that footballers were healthier up until the age of 70, but more at risk of death after the age of 70.
Commenting on the results, study author Willie Stewart said the research may improve treatments for professional athletes in the future.
“This is the largest study to date looking in this detail at the incidence of neurodegenerative disease in any sport, not just professional footballers,” he said.
“Our data show that while former footballers had higher dementia rates, they had lower rates of death due to other major diseases. As such, whilst every effort must be made to identify the factors contributing to the increased risk of neurodegenerative disease to allow this risk to be reduced, there are also wider potential health benefits of playing football to be considered.”