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.
The researchers are from London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSTHM), Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), and the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM).
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.
Professor John Cherrie
Institute of Occupational Medicine
Research Assistant, HEADING Study
England manager Gareth Southgate is leading the Football Association's support to encourage ex-players to take part in important research studies - including HEADING - which focus on the potential links between neurodegenerative disorders and former professional footballers.
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.
The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is to lead a study examining the possible link between a history of head impacts and neurodegenerative disease in former professional football players.