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Calls for Research into Early Onset Dementia and Contact Sports

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07 Aug 2013


The Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine (FSEM) in the UK would like to see further research into any possible relationship between early onset dementia and contact sports with a risk of head injury/head impacts.  


Research is needed to better understand the way in which brains may be damaged after a sporting head injury and the time course to recovery. The short, medium and long term consequences of head injuries during sport can be far reaching and concussion management in particular needs to be regularly reviewed through international consensus and clear standards adopted across all sports.  A co-ordinated research strategy to establish both the risk of Early Onset Dementia in the general population and the retired sporting population, as well as prospective studies following up players after their playing careers have ended, would be welcomed.


Dr Mike Loosemore Fellow of the FSEM, Consultant at the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health, University College London and Doctor to The British Boxing Team comments:

 "There is an association between serious head injury and dementia; however the evidence of dementia following concussion is not there. There is also the problem of attribution; just because an ex-player has developed dementia does not mean that the dementia was caused by their exposure to a particular sport. So if a patient who has dementia following a severe head injury also played a high impact sport, which group would they be in?"


Whilst the possible long term consequences of head injury are being researched, the Faculty believes that it is important that the key messages of concussion management are understood and implemented:

  • The critical importance of recognising and removing the concussed player from play is highlighted, along with the importance of the player not returning to play the same day.
  • The principle of monitoring a concussed player's progress through a graded return to play only once the player is symptom free is also highlighted.
  • A more conservative approach to the management of the age-group player is being adopted by many sporting organisations. Sports Physicians with expertise in concussion management are uniquely placed to co-ordinate the care of the athlete who has suffered a concussion.
  • Best practice clinical pathways from injury to return to school and play for the concussed player outside of the elite sports setting are not easily accessible in the UK and the Sports Physician with expertise in concussion management is well placed to develop this locally in collaboration with other healthcare professionals.


The Faculty will be working with its Members and Fellows to raise awareness about concussion management and together with other sporting organisations and national governing bodies look to align standards of management.


The Faculty believes that best practice concussion management should be data driven wherever possible and stresses the value of adopting a full an open risk management process where a data driven risk assessment drives practice and is openly communicated to the public and media. Concussion is an emotive topic where strong opinions are often held and injudicious reporting of risk can strongly and negatively impact on player participation rates and could lead to adverse health outcomes.


For further information, please visit the Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine website.


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