Former footballers to join dementia prevention study

Former professional footballers from across Scotland are set to join a study that aims to shed light on the links between dementia and the sport.

Legs of a footballer standing in a lit football stadium

In recent years, a number of former professional footballers have been diagnosed with dementia – a term that covers a range of disorders caused by abnormal brain changes.

Funded by PFA Scotland – an independent union for footballers – the new study from the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow is open to former players between the ages of 40 and 59.

Neurodegenerative disease

Previous research from the University of Glasgow’s FIELD study showed that former professional footballers had an approximately three-and-a-half-times higher rate of death due to neurodegenerative disease than expected.

The new study is an off-shoot of PREVENT – one of the world's largest studies of the very earliest stages of neurodegenerative disease and the first to focus entirely on brain changes in mid-life.

Participants will undergo a series of tests to help get some answers around the link between playing football and brain health.

By looking at lifestyle and biological factors in mid-life, the research team aims to find ways of detecting dementia before symptoms appear.

Although the symptoms of dementia occur in later life, changes in the brain happen many decades before, offering a window of opportunity to intervene before the disease takes hold.

We are all extremely grateful for this incredible support from PFA Scotland. Through our partnership with Professor Willie Stewart at the University of Glasgow, we will be able to shed some light on the reasons for the observations made in the FIELD study.

Professor Craig RitchieProfessor of Psychiatry of Ageing at the University of Edinburgh, Director of Brain Health Scotland and lead of the PREVENT Dementia Research Programme

Professor Ritchie said the new project could help experts work out how to prevent deterioration in players and substantially lower their risk of dementia.

The number of people with dementia in the UK is set to rise to one million by 2025. Dementia places a huge strain on patients and families and has a cost of £34.7bn per year in the UK.


Dementia among footballers is an extremely important subject which is as relevant to our current members as it is to former players. Over the last couple of years, there has been a lot of debate and worrying headlines around the issue of dementia in football and there are a number of research projects underway. What we particularly liked about PREVENT is the long-term goal of creating an awareness for footballers around brain health.

Fraser WishartChief Executive of PFA Scotland

Our FIELD study identified former professional footballers as a population at high risk of dementia and related conditions. The next challenge, which we hope to begin to address as part of this new arm of the PREVENT study, is to understand why this is the case and whether we might be able detect changes in brain health that would allow us to better target potential treatments to reduce their risk.

Professor Willie StewartHonorary Professor at the University of Glasgow and co-investigator in the PREVENT study

Related links

The PREVENT study

University of Edinburgh's Centre for Dementia Prevention 

[Image credit: Alan Thornton via Getty Images]