Announcing the HEADING Study

Former players will be recruited through the Professional Footballers’ Association for study examining the link between heading the ball or concussions and long-term cognitive function

UK-based researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), Queen Mary University of London and the Institute of Occupational Medicine aim to shed light on the possible association between a history of head impacts and neurodegenerative disease in former association football players in a £660,000 study funded by The Drake Foundation.

The study announced today, entitled Health and Ageing Data IN the Game of football (the HEADING study), will look to recruit approximately 300 former professional association football players aged 50 plus.

Through detailed assessments, researchers will gather data on the retired footballers’ playing history, work history and lifestyle factors, while an extensive set of tests will capture physical and cognitive capabilities, in addition to a neurological clinical examination. As well as face-to-face assessments, there will be an option to provide blood samples for biomarker measurements.

Evidence has been accumulating on the potential increased risk of neurodegenerative disease in former athletes exposed to head impacts. This issue was highlighted by the publication of a pathology study in February 2017, funded by The Drake Foundation, which reported chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the brains of four former association footballers known to be frequent headers of the ball.

Hannah Wilson, Programme Manager for The Drake Foundation explained, “We are delighted to further our partnership with this leading group of researchers. We hope this much-needed study will allow some insight into the potential consequences of a professional football career on brain health.”

“Many people have waited many years for a study like this,” added James Drake, Chairman of The Drake Foundation. “The Drake Foundation is proud to be funding this work and to be a part of this important step forwards in our understanding of sports-related concussion and its long-term effects.”

Professor Neil Pearce, from LSHTM, who is leading the study, believes different sports may carry different risks of head impact and different long-term effects. “We know that there are increased risks of neurological disorders from head injury in sports such as boxing. However, we don’t know much about the risks from concussion in football, and we know almost nothing about the long-term effects from heading the ball repeatedly.”

“This breakthrough study will provide, for the first time, persuasive evidence of the long-term effects on cognitive function from professional football. While the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) and the Football Association will be generously lending their help and support, the study will be undertaken independently with the findings being made publicly available.”

“The PFA is very pleased to be supporting The Drake Foundation and these experienced researchers. Research into all matters concerning the health and safety of our members past, present and future is a matter high on our agenda. For the last two decades the issue of head impacts, head injuries, concussions and neurodegenerative disease in former players has been of much concern to all at the PFA and our duty of care to our members” commented PFA Chief Executive Gordon Taylor.

“For the first time this study will include a detailed assessment of players’ football heading histories, which could be influenced by factors such as position played, decade of play and level played at” Damien McElvenny & John Cherrie, Institute of Occupational Medicine.

“The results of this study will allow us for the first time to assess the long term neurological health and cognitive function of former players, mainly in relation to their exposure to concussion and heading the ball.” Valentina Gallo, Queen Mary University of London

The study, supported by the Rugby Football Union, will build on partnerships established through the ongoing BRAIN study, launched in 2016 to assess brain health in former rugby players.

To date The Drake Foundation has invested over £1million into the links between the history of head impacts and neurodegenerative disease in former sportspeople.

For more information or interview requests please contact [email protected]

Follow #HEADINGStudy for more on Twitter