New study to monitor ex-soccer stars for early signs of dementia

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The University of East Anglia (UEA) project aims to subject former male and female professionals to a series of tests every six months to determine their decrease rate.

The project aims to use modern technology to detect signs of dementia long before symptoms such as memory loss become noticeable.

"There is a problem with former professionals. We have to investigate this now," said the lead researcher of the UEA project, Dr. Michael Gray, opposite CNN Sport.

"What we care about is looking at people who are actually still with us. I want to follow them for years, ideally for the rest of their lives."

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The majority of participants can take the tests from the comfort of their own home and do simple tasks with their tablet or computer.

The project will involve a number of "novel" techniques, including testing spatial navigation, an area of ​​cognitive function that Dr. Gray says that he deteriorates faster than others.

"I think the easiest way to explain this is that if you go to work today, you could probably close your eyes and point to your car and you'd be pretty close to accuracy," he said.

"People with dementia have difficulty doing this type of exercise because they rely on an area of ​​the brain that is responsible for remembering where we are in space."

The UEA wants to raise £ 1 million ($ 1.32 million) for new studies and hopes that 10% of that amount will be funded by crowd funding.

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Researchers believe that heading the ball can cause long-term damage.

"It makes you think"

Although concussions are a dangerous consequence of the game, Dr. Gray that repetitive head injuries, such as

There is concern that all of the action in the air, including accidental head bumping or uncomfortable falling, can contribute to the problem.

Dr. Gray also says that the theory that modern, lighter balls are less dangerous than the heavy balls of the past is a red herring, and explains that the speed of the ball has increased over time, which could cause further damage.

"Every time we head the ball, the nerve cells in the brain are damaged a little, and doing it over and over again in a professional career leads to degeneration, in our opinion," he said.

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The project is now looking for former professionals, with former striker Iwan Roberts being one of the first to register his interest.

The Welshman, who represented clubs like Leicester and Norwich City, has played over 700 times in his 20-year career and relied heavily on his header ability to score countless goals.

The 51-year-old said he had never thought about the potential dangers of his trade, but was now interested in participating in the UEA's long-term project.

"It makes you think," Roberts, who retired in 2005, told CNN Sport.

"Not only do I talk about all the games I've played, I talk about repeated headings every day to improve your heading ability, which I did every day at the end of a training session as a big center forward.

"I would go with a coach and we would have left and right wingers and they only crossed the balls for 45 minutes to an hour. I would just get into the habit of scoring goals with my head."

Former professional Iwan Roberts wants to be involved in the new project.

"People are not ready to talk"

Roberts, who has made a documentary on dementia and football for the Welsh language channel S4C, says that people in the game are now more aware of the dangers, but still believe that the sport's governing bodies can do more to help ex -Professional support.

"It's something people don't want to talk about because of certain authorities in this country [England] I don't want to be held responsible for certain things, "he said.

The English Football Association (FA) and the Professional Footballers & # 39; Association (PFA) both contributed to funding the field study at the University of Glasgow, the results of which were published in October.

The FA responded by reissuing its best practices for concussion protocols and heading coaching, saying there is no evidence that headings can cause long-term harm.

The PFA website states that neurological problems "have been on our agenda for 20 years" and that a document to support dementia and a hotline have been set up.

Dr. Gray believes that sport is finally getting a grip on the potential problem and hopes that such organizations will develop their understanding of such problems.

"I think the fact that we are having this conversation is a good thing," he said.

"It is a cultural change that we have to make. It will take time, but we will bring it on board."

Researchers are looking for former professional players over 50 who want to participate in the study and active non-footballers over 50.

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