Dementia in football: Dawn Astle 'staggered' by head trauma research

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Dementia in football: Alan Shearer undergoes MRI scan

Former footballers who have suffered from dementia "must not be a statistic", says a prominent campaigner after research showed a link between the sport and the disease.

Dawn Astle pushed for research after the death of her father - ex-England striker Jeff Astle - in 2002.

Experts have found ex-players are more than three times more likely to die of dementia than people of the same age range in the general population.

Astle is "staggered" by the findings.

"There will be no celebrations," she said. "It doesn't bring my dad back, it won't bring any other dads and husbands back. We knew dad could not be the only one. We just wanted that question answered."

'Football should care and remember'

Jeff Astle
A neurosurgeon said Astle died from a brain condition normally linked to boxers rather than Alzheimer's disease

Astle died with what a coroner described as an "industrial injury".

Since the former West Brom striker passed away at the age of 59, the families of dozens of other ex-footballers, including several from England's 1966 World Cup-winning squad, have come forward to reveal their stories of dealing with dementia and related illnesses.

Monday's publication of research conducted at Glasgow University involved comparing the deaths of 7,676 ex-players to 23,000 from the general population.

The sample was taken from men who played professional football in Scotland between 1900 and 1976.

Dr Willie Stewart said that "risk ranged from a five-fold increase in Alzheimer's disease, through an approximately four-fold increase in motor neurone disease, to a two-fold increase in Parkinson's disease in former professional footballers compared to population controls".

The link between contact sport participation and neurodegenerative disease has been subject to debate in recent years, but until this study, it was not clear whether there was any evidence of an increase in neurodegenerative disease rate in former footballers.

Astle continued: "My overall feeling is that I am staggered even though my own research and instinct was always that there was a serious problem.

"We just wanted to see that football cared enough to find out the scale of the problem, to do the right thing and be there for these people when they need them most. Whatever they do, it must be across all parts of the game.

"You can't assume it is not in grassroots and there is no evidence it is generational or that it was the old leather ball. And these players who have suffered dementia must not be a statistic - they must never be forgotten. They remain in the consciousness of the game."

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