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UEFA to study links between playing football and dementia

UEFA to study links between playing football and dementiaUEFA has commissioned a research project that will examine the links between dementia and playing football, BBC said on Thursday.

Tentative research published earlier this week suggested repeated headers during a player's career may be linked to long-term brain damage.

Researchers from University College London and Cardiff University examined the brains of five people who had been professional footballers and one who had been a committed amateur throughout his life.

They had played football for an average of 26 years and all six went on to develop dementia in their 60s.

While performing post mortem examinations, scientists found signs of brain injury - called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in four cases. CTE has been linked to memory loss, depression and dementia and has been seen in other contact sports.

But the science is far from clear-cut. Each brain also showed signs of Alzheimer's disease and some had blood vessel changes that can also lead to dementia.

Researchers speculate that it was a combination of factors that contributed to dementia in these players, but they acknowledge their research cannot definitively prove a link and are calling for larger studies.

European football's governing body UEFA says the project, which will begin on Friday, "aims to help establish the risk posed to young players during matches and training sessions".

UEFA's project follows similar initiatives in other sports.

In September, American football's National Football League (NFL) announced it would spend $100m on medical and engineering research to increase protection for players, after agreeing a $1bn settlement to compensate ex-players who had suffered brain injuries.

That figure was agreed in April following a lawsuit by 5,000 former players who successfully claimed the NFL hid the dangers of repeated head trauma.

A UK RugbyHealth study is already examining the long-term health effects of playing rugby, including the effects of suffering frequent concussion. That followed a World Rugby research project, which published findings of a potential link between frequent concussion and brain damage in 2015.

However, its lead researcher said it was "difficult" to draw robust conclusions, adding "further research was required".
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