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Newcastle United player heading a football


Former football players are taking part in major study to investigate effects of the sport on brain health.

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The HEADING study will examine brain health and healthy ageing in around 300 former football players aged 50+. The researchers will assess physical and cognitive abilities of former players in relation to their previous exposure to concussion.

Who we are

The researchers are from London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSTHM), Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), and the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM).


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The HEADING study is working with retired footballers to find out if there are associations between a history of concussion, heading the ball, and neurodegenerative disease.

The research is gathering data on the retired players’ quality of life and social circumstances, with an extensive set of tests capturing physical and cognitive capabilities - including grip strength, memory and reasoning - and a neurological clinical examination to look for signs of disease. There will also be face-to-face assessments as well as blood and urine samples taken for future analysis. The same tests and procedures will be used in a separate ongoing 1946 Birth Cohort Study which will provide a general population comparison.

The 300 former professional football players, who are over 50, will be asked about their experiences of suffering concussion, but the study will also assess if any other characteristics of football playing history such as length of career or age when they took up the game is associated with any of the health outcomes measured.

HEADING is a collaboration between the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Queen Mary University of London, the Institute of Occupational Medicine, and University College London, with the help and support of the Professional Footballers Association (PFA).


There is growing evidence on the possible increased risks of neurodegenerative diseases including Dementia, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease (PD), and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in former contact sport athletes. Different sports expose players to different types of injuries and while several studies have suggested an increased risk of various neurological disorders, this has not yet been established.

Who we are
Profiles List
Principal investigators

Dr Valentina Gallo

Queen Mary University of London

Damien McElvenny

Institute of Occupational Medicine

Dr Simon Kemp

Rugby Football Union
Rugby Football Union

Professor John Cherrie

Institute of Occupational Medicine

Dr Sebastian Crutch

Institute of Neurology, Queen Square, UCL

Professor Nick Fox

Institute of Neurology, Queen Square, UCL

Professor John Hardy

Institute of Neurology, Queen Square, UCL

Saba Mian


Professor Huw Morris

University College London (UCL)

Professor Heinrik Zetterberg

University College London

Dr Mike Loosemore

Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health, UCL

Dr Andrea Malaspina

Queen Mary University of London

Professor Marcus Richards

MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing at UCL

Professor Jonathan Schott

Institute of Neurology, Queen Square, UCL

Danielle Pearce

Research Assistant, HEADING Study
Project Administrator
Updates List Block
Updates List
Gareth Southgate pledges support for research into neurodegenerative disorders
Former England football captain heads call for brain health study volunteers

Ex Arsenal and England footballer Tony Adams is urging former footballers to sign up to a major study examining the link between heading the ball in football and long-term cognitive decline.

Can heading the ball or concussion affect brain health?
Scientific Papers
Publications List
Exposure assessment for repeated sub-concussive head impacts in soccer: The HEalth and Ageing Data IN the Game of football (HEADING) study
Ioannis Basinas, Damien M. McElvenny, Finley Brooker, Steven Robertson, Yvonne van Hoecke, Simon Kemp, Neil Pearce, Valentina Gallo, John W. Cherrie
International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health Volume 253, August 2023, 11423
Feasibility study of assessing the Preclinical Alzheimer Cognitive Composite (PACC) score via videoconferencing
Giulia Seghezzo, Yvonne Van Hoecke, Laura James, Donna Davoren, Elizabeth Williamson, Neil Pearce, Damien McElvenny, Valentina Gallo
Journal of Neurology