Discussion on the List of Footballers Suffering From Dementia

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A Discussion on the Former Soccer Players who have had Dementia 


The list provides a record of former UK footballers who have suffered from dementia.  It is similar to a list of American footballers who have experienced CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). The list covers a range of different types of dementia which include Alzheimer's diseaseCTEvascular dementiaLewy body and pick disease.  The list is a basic one which covers many famous players from the past who played for England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Players include Tottenham's Dave MackayPeter Baker and Ron Henry.  Other prominent players who have been included are Ron YeatsJohn McNamee and Joe Mercer.

  

One of the complexities when compiling the record was to decide which players to include.  Jack Charlton has been incorporated because it was revealed that he suffers from severe memory loss.  Frank Worthington has also been included, on the basis of memory loss, although this diagnosis has been denied.  Mike Sutton's case has only recently been discussed and has been put on the list.  Chris Nicholl has bravely spoken about the challenges he faces; but there is not a formal diagnosis yet, so he is not on the register. However, the length of Chris Nicholl's career is interesting as he played for 19 years from 1965-1984.  Nicholl's central playing position is also relevant as it is likely 

to lead to many headers being needed.

 

The record is not comprehensive as it does not cover less well known players or amateur footballers.  The list is only based on publically available sources which are easily accessible on the internet.

 

Research on the link between football (heading) and dementia: A Cross-Table

 

This section will explain how research could be undertaken to examine the link between playing football and dementia.  A cross-table could be constructed. For example, a sample of 2,000 people could be taken of 1,000 footballers and 1,000 non-footballers.  The researcher would then seek to find out how many of those football players and non-players did or did not have dementia.  This is shown in the table below.

 

Cross-Table to examine footballers, non-footballers, dementia and non-dementia.

 

 

Footballer

(age 65-95)

Non-footballer

(age 65-95)

Cases with Dementia

 

 

Cases of Non-dementia

 

 

 

1,000

1,000

 

This is a simple table although it is complicated by how a researcher would determine whether a footballer has dementia or not; as discussed above.  Careful consideration would need to be given to how the age group is specified.  So, the footballer group would need to be males aged between 65 and 95; and the same for the non playing group.  The proportions within this 30 year age group would have to be consistent across the two groups.

 

The table could be elaborated upon by dividing the 'footballer category' into three different sets: professional footballer, amateur footballer and non-footballer.

 

Professional Footballer

(age 65-95)

Amateur Footballer

(age 65-95)

Non-footballer


(age 65-95)

 

Research on the link between football (heading) and dementia: ANOVA

 

More sophisticated statistical research is needed; such as analysis of variance (ANOVA).  It would be necessary to categorise a footballer by (1) the position played or (2) the length of his career.  Therefore, it could be possible to link the footballer to dementia:

 

(1)  The possible link between position played -> and dementia

(2)  The possible link between the length of career -> and dementia

(1 + 2) The possible link between (position played and the length of career)  -> and dementia

 

It would also be possible to separate the 'generic label' of dementia into different categories of the disease; as discussed in the top paragraph.  Therefore, you could have:

 

(1a)  The possible link between position played -> and Alzheimer's disease.

(1b)  The possible link between position played -> and Pick's disease (a type of dementia).

(1a + 1b) The possible link between position played  -> and (Alzheimer's disease dementia and  Pick's disease).

 

Method for Measuring the Length of the Player's Career

 

The length of the footballer's career was found by taking the last year of the career (where games were played) and then subtracting the first year of the career.  For example, 1966-1950=16.  However, information can be missing, especially, with games played in the non-league after the end of the player's formal career. 

 

The Age of the Footballer when they Died


Information was collected on the age of the footballer when they died after suffering from dementia.  The information on when the footballers died is commonly available. The age of death could be of interest to a  statistician who is trying to explore the possible link between football and dementia.  This is because an earlier death could indicate a more serious case of dementia.  However, this information was removed from the table.  This was to be sensitive to former footballers, and their families, who are living with cognitive deterioration.

 

A Conclusion


The table shows that 80 footballers have developed dementia after playing the sport.  It is interesting that about half of the dementia cases were labelled as Alzheimer's disease.

 

There is a significant number of former players who had Alzheimer's in their 80's.  The large number of cases of cognitive deterioration, among former players over 80, can be compared with the 17 per cent of people who have dementia over the age of 80.  Nevertheless, it is not possible to reach a detailed conclusion on the basis of this data alone.

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