A groundbreaking new study into former football and rugby players with dementia has found that they were six times more likely to have Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease associated with repetitive head trauma.
The research, which has been led by Dr Willie Stewart at the University of Glasgow, followed a donation programme that has been inviting families and even former players themselves to allow brains to be examined following their death. All those studied had played football or rugby over a long period and had suffered dementia.
CTE, which was previously known as dementia pugilistica and can only be definitively diagnosed in post-mortem, has long been associated with boxing, but increasingly now also other contact sports, including American Football, rugby and football. The symptoms can be confused during life with Alzheimer’s or others types of neurodegenerative disease.
Dr Stewart and his team found CTE in around 75 per cent of the brains of former football and rugby players they studied. This compares with a CTE prevalence of around 12 per cent in the brains of people with dementia in the general population.
“They have a range of pathologies but the one thing that is coming through that is striking in the group we have looked at, which actually mirrors what has been found in other places around the world, is that around three quarters of them have this CTE pathology in their brains,” said Dr Stewart.