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Soccer and the risk of dementia

A player heads the ball during the UEFA Champions League final in Kiev, 2015

Aleksandr Osipov / Wikimedia Commons

Professional soccer players are at a higher risk of developing dementia later in life than the general population, probably due to the number of collisions and blows to the head they suffer during their careers. The most recent evidence is from a study that spent nearly 28 years following 6,007 players in the Allsvenskan, the top tier of men’s soccer in Sweden, and compared their health outcomes with 56,168 individuals of the same gender, age, and social status from the general population. After analyzing medical records and death certificates, epidemiologist Peter Ueda of Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, concluded that soccer players were 1.5 times more likely to develop neurodegenerative disease than people who did not play the sport professionally. They were 1.62 times more likely to die with Alzheimer’s disease specifically and 1.69 times more likely to die with some form of dementia. Outfield players were more at risk than the 510 goalkeepers included in the study. Among professional goalkeepers, the probability of developing neurodegenerative diseases was similar to the rest of the general population (The Lancet Public Health, March 16).