The daughter of former England footballer Jeff Astle has called for more research after a study found that heading a ball can significantly affect a player’s brain.
Researchers at Stirling University monitored a group of players heading the ball 20 times, and said they identified “small but significant changes in brain function”.
Memory was impaired by up to 67% following the heading session, with the effects wearing off after 24 hours.
Astle, a former West Bromwich Albion forward, died in 2002 at the age of 59 from a degenerative brain disease.
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The coroner at his inquest found that the repeated minor traumas of heading the ball had been the cause of his death.
His daughter Dawn told Sky News that football authorities now need to carry out more research so players know the possible risks they face.
“It’s worrying for the game,” she said.
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“There could be thousands upon thousands of players who have suffered grievously and brutally with this dreadful disease.
“It’s now time the football authorities stopped sweeping it under the carpet and got on with the research so that we know the risks not just for the elite level but for kids playing football.”
She said once the effects are known of continually heading a ball, people can make an informed choice whether they continue playing or not.
Stirling University has not yet investigated if changes to the brain are only temporary after repeated games of football, or if there were long-term consequences for the brain.
Cognitive neuroscientist Dr Magdalena Ietswaart said: “Using a drill most amateur and professional teams would be familiar with, we found there was in fact increased inhibition in the brain immediately after heading and that performance on memory tests was reduced significantly.
“Although the changes were temporary, we believe they are significant to brain health, particularly if they happen over and over again as they do in football heading.”
Dr Angus Hunter, from the Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, added: “For the first time, sporting bodies and members of the public can see clear evidence of the risks associated with repetitive impact caused by heading a football.
“We hope these findings will open up new approaches for detecting, monitoring and preventing cumulative brain injuries in sport.”
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