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Heading for trouble: is dementia a game changer for football?
  1. A Rutherford1,
  2. William Stewart2,
  3. Davide Bruno3
  1. 1 School of Psychology, Keele University, Keele, UK
  2. 2 Queen Elizabeth University Hospital and Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
  3. 3 School of Natural Sciences and Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr A Rutherford, School of Psychology, Faculty of Natural Sciences, Keele University, Keele, Staffordshire ST5 5BG, UK; a.rutherford{at}keele.ac.uk

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Introduction

After fevered media coverage of a possible link between football (soccer) heading and long-term damage to the brain, 2016 saw the Professional Footballers’ Association call for a review of the game to decide whether to follow the lead of the United States Soccer and ban heading for younger players. Given these concerns, and the fact the relevant Rules of Football were conceived over 100 years ago, is it time for major rule changes? Is there evidence that football increases risk of neurodegenerative disease (eg, dementia) and heading is to blame?

(No) Data on dementia risk in football

Remarkably, despite phenomenal football participation rates globally and over a century of participation, there is little evidence regarding football’s impact on brain health, and dementia in particular. Football is a contact sport and concussive head injuries do occur, but multiple reviews of the available research literature have drawn the same conclusions: football concussion outcomes are consistent with the general concussion literature, with weak to non-existent evidence for a link between football play and long-term neurological or cognitive deficits.1–3 However, a common feature of most football research …

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