Elite soccer players more likely to develop dementia, study suggests

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Elite soccer players are 1.5 times more likely to develop neurodegenerative diseases compared to the common population. It reveals a new study observational study conducted in Sweden published in The Lancet Public Health.

Among male athletes playing in the Swedish top flight, 9% were diagnosed with neurodegenerative diseases, compared to 6% of other population groups.

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In recent years, there have been growing concerns about exposure to head injury in football and whether this could lead to an increased risk of neurodegenerative disease in the future.

One study A previous study carried out in Scotland suggested that soccer players were 3.5 times more likely to develop neurodegenerative diseases. Following this evidence, some football associations have implemented measures to reduce heading in younger age groups and in training settings.

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“While the increased risk in our study is slightly less than in the previous study from Scotland, it confirms that top football players have a higher risk of neurodegenerative disease later in life. As there are growing calls within sport for greater measures to protect brain health, our study adds to the limited evidence base and can be used to guide decisions on how to manage these risks,” says Peter Ueda, assistant professor at the Karolinska Institute, from Sweden.

The study used Sweden’s national health records to search for records of neurodegenerative diseases (diagnoses, deaths or use of prescription drugs for dementia) in 6,007 men’s soccer players who played in the Swedish top flight from 1924 to 2019.

The survey compared players’ risk of neurodegenerative disease with population controls, who were people matched with soccer players according to gender, age and region of residence. The analysis broke down the risk of different neurodegenerative conditions, including Alzheimer’s and other dementias, motor neurone disease and Parkinson’s. The analysis also compared risks between outfield players and goalkeepers.

Overall, soccer players had a 1.5 times greater risk of neurodegenerative disease compared to controls. According to the study, 9% (537 out of 6,007) of soccer players compared to 6% (3,485 out of 56,168) of the general population were diagnosed with neurodegenerative disease.

The authors warn that although 9% of soccer players and 6% of the general population were diagnosed with neurodegenerative diseases during the study, most participants were still alive at the end of data collection. Therefore, the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases for both groups is likely to be higher.

The risk of neurodegenerative disease was not significantly higher for goalkeepers compared to the non-pitch population. Consequently, in a direct comparison, outfield players had a 1.4 times greater risk of neurodegenerative disease compared to goalkeepers.

“Importantly, our findings suggest that goalkeepers do not have the same increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases as outfield players. Goalkeepers rarely head the ball, unlike outfield players, but they are exposed to similar environments and lifestyles during their football careers and perhaps also after retirement. It has been hypothesized that the mild and repetitive head trauma suffered while heading the ball is the reason why soccer players are at greater risk, and it may be that the difference in risk of neurodegenerative disease between these two types of players supports this hypothesis. theory,” says Ueda.

Soccer players had a 1.6 times greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias compared to controls – with 8% (491 out of 6,007) of soccer players being diagnosed with the disease compared to 5% (2,889 out of 56,168 ) of the controls.

There was no significant risk increase for soccer players versus Observed controls for motor neuron disease, which includes amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The risk of Parkinson’s disease was lower among soccer players. Overall mortality was slightly lower among soccer players compared to the control group (40% versus 42%).

“The lower overall mortality we observed among soccer players indicates that their overall health was better than the general population, likely due to their fitness from playing soccer frequently. Physical activity is associated with a lower risk of dementia, so it can be assumed that the potential risks of head impacts are somewhat offset by good physical fitness. Good physical fitness could also be the reason behind the lower risk of Parkinson’s disease,” says Björn Pasternak, senior researcher at the Karolinska Institutet.

Among the study’s limitations, the researchers acknowledge that the generalizability of the findings to soccer players on the field today is uncertain. As neurodegenerative disease usually occurs later in life, most athletes in the study who were old enough to develop one of these conditions played elite football in the mid-20th century. In addition, improvements in training and accessories used in the field over the decades can also contribute to reducing the incidence of injuries and, consequently, neurological diseases.

Source: CNN Brasil

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