A senior neurologist is asking female ex-professional footballers to take part in his study, as he fears dementia could be an even bigger issue for women who play the game than men.
Dr Michael Grey, lead researcher on the SCORES Project at the University of East Anglia, has more than 35 male ex-pros in the study group – including Iwan Roberts and Mark Bright – but not a single female.
An earlier study by the University of Glasgow which focused on men found former footballers are three and a half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative disease than members of the general population.
Dr Grey says there must be research on the impact of playing football on women, who account for 61% of dementia cases in the UK.
The higher numbers of female dementia sufferers is partly because women on average live longer than men and dementia is usually a disease of old age, but Dr Grey says this does not explain everything.
“In football specifically, if you look at concussions, women experience concussions to a greater extent than men do,” he said.
Dr Grey said repetitive head trauma is a “big factor” for the loss of function of parts of the brain, which can lead to diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
He said it is not clear yet whether women are more affected by these repetitive brain injuries than men – but he believes it is “likely”.
“We simply don’t know but it makes sense that might be the case, and that’s why it’s so important that we study women as well as men,” he said.
Although Dr Grey is yet to find a female study participant, he says it is not for want of trying.
He has tried dropping the lower age limit from 50 to 40 and has also contacted the Football Association and the Professional Footballers’ Association for help.
“I don’t know why they won’t get behind us and help us spread the word about the study but the fact is thus far there’s been no involvement from them,” he said.
Dr Grey warned the study only has a “few months” left before it runs out of funding.
The research uses tests on tablets and laptops to track changes in brain function among participants, and Dr Grey says he has to “pay for each and every one of these tests”.
“We’re good for another few months, but I’m also confident that this is important enough that we will find sources (of funding),” he said.
“I’m positive that something will come forward and we won’t have to close the project.”