Soccer players may be at greater risk for and from neurodegenerative diseasesAlzheimer’s or dementiawhich has led to questions about the safety of the sport and recent measures taken by football associations to minimize head-butting.
A recent study was conducted of male soccer players (amateur and professional) who played at least one game in the Swedish league from August 1, 1924 to December 31, 2019, and 56,000 non-players, according to the science website The Lancet.
The study used nationwide registries to compare the risk of neurodegenerative disease, diagnoses recorded on death certificates, during hospital admissions and outpatient visits or use of prescription medications for dementia among soccer players versus controls.
The chance of hitting players is more than guards
Each type of neurodegenerative disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, motor neurone disease, and Parkinson’s disease, was assessed separately, and the risk of neurodegenerative disease was compared between players versus goalkeepers.
And the players had a 1.6 times greater chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. While eight per cent were diagnosed, compared with five per cent of the control group.
However, there was no increased risk of motor neuron disease and the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease was lower among the athletes.
The overall chance of developing a neurodegenerative disease was 1.5 times higher for players on the court. But there was no significant increase in goalkeepers.
The researchers note that changes in the game over subsequent decades have reduced some of the risks.
This also included switching from leather balls, which absorb water, to synthetic balls, along with better training and equipment.
Danger to players
In this cohort study, male footballers who played in the Swedish top flight had a high risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases.
A higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia but not of other types of neurodegenerative diseases was observed among players on the field, but not among goalkeepers.