Study reveals first major insights into lifelong health outcomes in former professional footballers

A study, led by Dr Willie Stewart, Consultant Neuropathologist and Honorary Clinical Associate Professor, Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology, has found that former professional footballers have an approximately three and a half times higher rate of death due to neurodegenerative disease than expected.

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The findings compared the causes of death of 7,676 former Scottish male professional football players, who were born between 1900 and 1976, against those of more than 23,000 matched individuals from the general population.

Dr Stewart said: “This is the largest study to date looking in this detail at the incidence of neurodegenerative disease in any sport, not just professional footballers.

“A strength of our study design is that we could look in detail at rates of different neurodegenerative disease subtypes. This analysis revealed that risk ranged from a 5-fold increase in Alzheimer’s disease, through to an approximately 4-fold increase in motor neurone disease, to a 2-fold Parkinson’s disease in former professional footballers compared to population controls.”

The paper ‘Neurodegenerative disease mortality in former professional soccer players’ is published in The New England Journal of Medicine and can be found in full here.

First published: 6 December 2019