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Families look into football’s dementia risk

February 28, 2017

The families of several professional footballers have launched a campaign looking into whether repeatedly heading a football can cause dementia.

It follows news that former Celtic captain Billy McNeill has been diagnosed with the condition.

His family says that, despite not knowing that football is the definitive cause of his condition, they want more research to be done.

The family is joined by the relatives of other former professional players who played for Kilmarnock FC in the 1960s and went on to develop the disease.

The son of one of those players, David Sneddon, said he can see his father, Davie Sneddon, losing his memory more every day.

“Dad didn’t head the ball much during the game, but during training they headed the ball a lot,” he said.

Mr Sneddon goes on to comment on the neurological condition of his father’s teammates.

“They had Frank [Beattie] who was the centre half. He died from Parkinson’s and dementia.

“And you have Jackie McInally who died last year. He was unwell as well with that same sort of illness.

“Jim Mcfadzean was part of the squad and he had Parkinson’s as well. Joe Mason who was another squad member – he’s currently in a home at the moment and he doesn’t keep very well.”

Previous studies have linked, but not conclusively proven, that repeatedly heading a football can cause dementia.

In 2016 the University of Stirling found that after heading a ball, significant brain function and memory loss could be found in the following 24 hours.

Neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart, who co-authored the study, said: “The science is way behind current public concern and the anecdotes we’re seeing coming through from tragic case examples.

“The reality is we have very little science to link the act of heading to any long term problems.

“What we know is that in a small number of former footballers, when we’ve looked at their brains, we find a pathology in their brains that we’ve seen in people who have been exposed to brain injury in the past.”

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