Risk for Neurodegenerative Disease Increased for Soccer Players

Increased risk seen for Alzheimer disease and other dementias, but no increase seen for motor neuron disease or Parkinson disease
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Medically Reviewed By:
Meeta Shah, M.D.

FRIDAY, March 17, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- Soccer players, specifically outfield players, have an increased risk for neurodegenerative disease, according to a study published online March 16 in The Lancet Public Health.

Peter Ueda, M.D., from the Stockholm Sports Trauma Research Center, and colleagues compared the risk for neurodegenerative disease among 6,007 soccer players (510 goalkeepers) who had played at least one game in the top Swedish division between Aug. 1, 1924, and Dec. 31, 2019, and 56,168 matched controls.

The researchers found that 8.9 and 6.2 percent of soccer players and matched controls, respectively, were diagnosed with neurodegenerative disease during follow-up to Dec. 31, 2020. Soccer players had a higher risk for neurodegenerative disease than controls, with an increased risk for Alzheimer disease and other dementias but not motor neuron disease. Conversely, the risk for Parkinson disease was lower for soccer players. An increased risk for neurodegenerative disease was seen for outfield players versus controls, but not for goalkeepers versus controls; the risk was higher for outfield players than goalkeepers. Soccer players had a lower risk for all-cause mortality than controls.

"While the risk increase in our study is slightly smaller than in the previous study from Scotland, it confirms that elite footballers have a greater risk of neurogenerative disease later in life," Ueda said in a statement. "As there are growing calls from within the sport for greater measures to protect brain health, our study adds to the limited evidence-base and can be used to guide decisions on how to manage these risks."

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