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Comment: ‘If in doubt, sit it out’ approach can combat Dementia in football

November 3, 2022
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Court of Protection solicitor at Fletchers, Sarah Charnley believes professional sporting institutions need to be more brain injury aware.

Sarah, who is also a Trustee at Headway Preston and Chorley has responded to a study linking heading ‘old and heavy’ footballs to developing dementia.

As a long-term supporter of the UK’s brain injury association, Sarah recommends further testing on ‘lighter, modern footballs.’

Sarah said:

Whilst we know there is a link between the cumulative effect of repeated blows to the head and degenerative conditions such as dementia, this research shows that former professional footballers have a five-fold increase in the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Those tested used to play with a heavy leather football. Moreover, it is not yet clear whether lighter, modern balls have the same effect.

Nevertheless, it is important that everyone involved in the game are concussion aware. We must be alive to a, ‘if in doubt, sit it out’ approach to head injury in sport.


Glasgow University’s serious brain injury findings

Commissioned by the Football Association and the Professional Footballers’ Association, Glasgow University compared deaths of 7,676 ex-football players to 23,000 from the general population.

Consultant, Dr Willie Stewart concluded ex-professional brain injury risks included ‘a five-fold increase in Alzheimer’s disease.’

Why has an official brain injury investigation taken so long?

Despite FA Chairman, Greg Clarke announcing a research commitment, for many, the study has taken too long to arrive.

Following the death of former England and West Bromwich Albion striker, Jeff Astle in 2002, his inquest concluded repeatedly heading heavy leather footballs contributed to his mental and physical deterioration.

As a result of the inquest, Astle’s family has long-campaigned for a thorough and serious investigation into the links between heading a football and dementia.

Astle’s own daughter, Dawn, poignantly shared her concerns in the BBC documentary: Dementia, Football and Me.

Finding the right representation following a traumatic brain injury

Working at Fletchers, Sarah has seen firsthand how debilitating head injuries can be for serious injury victims.

For example, Serious Injury Solicitor, Aimee Ratcliffe represented Iain Gilham, who fell several stories from a collapsing crane.

After sustaining a long term brain injury many thought Iain wouldn’t survive.

Despite that, Fletcher’s ensured Iain received compensation for his fall and supported him throughout his recovery.

Fletchers know what people like me are going to need before we realise what we are going to need

Sarah is now hopeful sporting institutions will become head injury focussed.

The immediate effects of a head injury often include symptoms similar to dementia, such as memory loss, confusion, aphasias and personality changes.

Generally, the symptoms of a traumatic brain injury, TBI do not get progressively worse as they do with dementia.

However, research indicates that a TBI can increase the likelihood of developing dementia, thus suggesting that the TBI can generate an abnormal form of protein associated with dementia.

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