Dementia and Sport

Dementia a growing problem
Photo by Matthias Zomer from Pexels

Dementia is often in the news, and there is a growing concern that those engaged in sport are at risk. There are reports concerning footballers who have developed dementia, and in the news today, England and Lions rugby player Steve Thompson has a diagnosis of dementia at the age of 42.

Footballers and rugby players are in danger of head injuries. Footballers often head the ball, which can be moving at quite a speed which increases the forces passing through the head of the player. In football, the most likely cause of long-term damage is due to the number of times the ball is headed.

Footballer Alan Jarvis dies at the age of 76, and at his inquest, the coroner put the cause of death down as from Alzheimer’s caused by his occupation. There is a long list of footballers who are now suffering from dementia including one of my favourite players, former Chesterfield FC’s record goal-scorer, Ernie Moss.  His daughter, Nikki Trueman is doing great work in both raising funds and awareness about this terrible condition.

Dementia Research

There is research done on the causes of dementia, but the amount of money needs to be more significant to speed up the solutions as more seem to be developing it. The Alzheimer’s Society on their website gives some comparison with other illnesses. Below is quoted from the Alzheimer’s Society website.

“Dementia research should receive a level of investment that matches the economic and human cost of the condition. The total cost of dementia to the UK is estimated at £26 billion a year but only £90 is spent on dementia research per patient per year (Alzheimer’s Society, 2014). This is only a fraction of the amount spent on research into some other health conditions. Progress is being made in securing further investment in dementia research. Since 2009/10, annual government and charity spend on dementia research has increased from £43.6 million to almost £74 million in 2013. However, in 2012/13 cancer research still received seven times that spent on dementia (Alzheimer’s Society, 2014). The UK needs a national and long-term plan for dementia research that it is funded in proportion to its impact on society and with greater co-ordination between funders of dementia research.”

Is it the ball?

In football, some have blamed the old leather footballs of yesteryear for the problem today. However, retired footballer Alan Shearer took part in a TV documentary on this subject of dementia in footballers. He was surprised to learn that the modern ball is heavier although the old one would be heavier if wet. A doctor connected to Shearer to a machine which measured the impact each time he headed the ball in this test. With every header, it was noticeable that the brain is moved around inside the skull. Those brain movements, much like a boxer receiving blows to the head and the cause of concussion, could be adding up to severe problems later in life.

There is much to learn about dementia. Can it be cured? Perhaps more importantly can it be prevented, and as we know, prevention is better than cure. Dementia is an all too real problem for not just those with it but for their family who has to watch them suffer.

Further information about dementia

For more information about dementia and there are many types of it, you can visit the websites below.

Age UK

Alzheimer’s Society

Dementia UK


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