Dementia and Brain Injuries in Sport

Dementia and Brain Injuries in Sport

As potential links between traumatic brain injuries and various types of sport continue to make headlines, sports bodies need to ensure they take steps to prevent injury, says John Whelan.

While participating in sport is associated with many health benefits, there can be a risk of injury, particularly in contact sports where traumatic brain injuries may occur.

Recent reports that a group of former rugby internationals are planning legal action for alleged negligence over brain injuries they have suffered come in the wake of growing concern about the potential risk of incurring dementia and other types of neurodegenerative disease through participation in certain sports.

In 2019, a study funded by the Professional Footballers' Association Charity and Football Association found that “former professional footballers had an approximately three and a half times higher rate of death due to neurodegenerative disease than expected” but that they were less likely to die of other common diseases, such as heart disease and some cancers. Further research is needed to identify the factors contributing to the increased risk of neurodegenerative disease.

Elsewhere, contact sports such as boxing and American football have been linked to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive brain condition thought to be caused by repeated blows to the head or recurrent episodes of concussion.

 A difficulty for individuals who believe that they have suffered sports-related brain injuries is that the delay between the injury and the onset of symptoms of neurodegenerative brain diseases such as dementia can be significant. However, as further research findings emerge, it is likely that more legal actions will be taken. Consequently, those who have a duty of care to individuals who participate in sports will need monitor developments and ensure that they take all necessary steps to prevent injury.

If you are affected, or would like more information, please get in touch.