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'Urgent need' for football header research

From BBC - November 12, 2017

Scientists investigating links between heading footballs and dementia say there is an urgent need for more research.

It follows the screening of a BBC documentary "Dementia, football and me",featuring Alan Shearer.

Last year, scientists at Stirling University found just one session of heading a ball could lead to an immediate decrease in brain function.

They said more work was needed to assess long-term effects.

The academics have called for funding for further studies looking at the risks of heading footballs.

The BBC documentary, which was screened on Sunday night, heard from current and retired professional footballers, the relatives of former players diagnosed with dementia, the Football Association (FA), the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) and scientists in sports medicine.

Many of those interviewed raised concerns that there could be a link between heading the ball and brain health but said that more research was required.

The documentary included footage of former England international Shearer undergoing tests in a lab at Stirling, where academics have, for the first time, found direct evidence of brain changes immediately after heading a ball.

The FA and PFA have commissioned research into whether the degenerative neurocognitive disease is more common in ex-professional footballers than the rest of the population.

But cognitive neuroscientist Dr Magdalena Ietswaart and Dr Angus Hunter, reader in exercise physiology, said more funding was needed for scientific studies that would provide understanding of the risks associated with heading footballs.

'Definitive answers'

Dr Ietswaart said: "We do not yet know whether there is a definitive link between football and dementia. This can only be discovered by carrying out research in this area.

"Scientific developments open up a new approach that is achievable but requires a robust funding drive. If you want real answers, you need to understand what is happening in the brain; what is cause and effect, the approach we use here at Stirling.

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