Dementia: the #1 enemy of athletes

Scientists studied the relationship between heading footballs and the brain disease

Leer en Español: Demencia: el enemigo de los deportistas

Many boxers prepare themselves to fight against their opponents. They practice for days, months, and even years in order to fight against other boxers. However, their main enemy is the sport itself.

It is well known that dementia and Parkinson’s disease has ended the lives of many athletes. The repeated blows to the head can develop into severe pathologies in the future, or so it seems. According to various doctors, this kind of dementia is called "dementia Pugilistica".

Former boxers like Meldrick Taylor, Thomas Herns, Jimmy Elis, Billy Conn, and Mike Quarry, among others, developed symptoms associated to this illness. Even the great Muhammad Ali was a victim of dementia; however, his personal doctor assured that the boxer developed Alzheimer due to punches to the head.

Dementia Pugilistica

The Dementia Pugilistica (DP), also known as "punch-drunk syndrome", is a type of dementia caused by repeated punches to the head.

According to, this disease was originally discovered during the 1920s in boxers. The website assured that "it commonly manifest itself as a dementia (or declining of the mental ability) along with problems with memory and Pakirnsonism".

The people who suffered from DP commonly suffer from tremors, slowed movements, speech problems, and confusion. It is difficult to diagnose because is commonly associated to aging or Alzheimer.

Other Sports

However, recent studies had shown that dementia is common among other sportsmen. For example, last year, scientist from the Stirling University in Scotland assured that heading butting soccer balls can lead to an immediate decrease in brain function.

According to the BBC's documentary "Dementia, football and me", current and retired professional football and soccer players were diagnosed with dementia. They also said that there must be a link between the action and the disease.

In March of 2017, a commission from the Football Association (FA) and the Professional Footballer's Association (PFA) from the United Kingdom revealed a research that showed that former professional footballers are more likely to have a degenerative neurocognitive disease than the rest of the population.

According to a research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 177 among 202 donated brains of former football players had Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). This means: 87% of the former footballers (not only professionals) had brain injury.

The researchers of the Boston University School of Medicine, explained that "years of football participation (including pre-high school, high school, college, semi professional, and NFL players) can produce CTE".

According to the study, the more the player practices the sport, the more severe the injury; high school football and soccer players were diagnosed with mild pathology. However, 56% of the semi professionals and college players and 86% of the professionals had severe pathology. The majority of those analyzed had signs of dementia.



Latin American Post | Santiago Gómez Hernández

Copy edited by Susana Cicchetto

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