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  1. ITV Report

Study to investigate links between football and dementia

A major study assessing whether footballers are at greater risk of degenerative brain disease is ready to be launched as concerns grow about dementia in former players.

Concerns have grown ever since the family of former England and West Brom striker Jeff Astle began campaigning on the issue following his death from the disease in 2002.

Last year former Colchester United and Ipswich Town player Bobby Hunt spoke about having the illness. The 74-year-old played in the 1960s when footballs were harder and heavier than those used in the modern game.

Former Norwich City players, centre back Duncan Forbes and Martin Peters also have the disease.

And former Cambridge and Peterborough boss Chris Turner also died from the disease.

World cup winner and Norwich midfielder Martin Peters

According to the Press Association after an eight-month evaluation period a research group will be appointed in the next few weeks to take on the most comprehensive study of its kind, jointly commissioned by the Football Association and Professional Footballers' Association.

The group will set out to answer the complex question of whether the incidence of degenerative neurocognitive disease is more common in ex-professional footballers than in the normal population.

Alan Shearer has expressed his concern

Former England captain Alan Shearer has expressed his concern about the effects heading a ball during his career may have on his long-term health and questioned whether enough had been done by governing bodies to protect players.

"Football must look after old players with dementia and put an end to this sense that once you are done playing, you can be put on the scrapheap."

– Alan Shearer

FA sources have rejected claims it was "swept under the carpet" and in March the governing body set out its plans to tackle the issue with the most comprehensive study done in this area by any organisation.

There has been criticism of the FA and PFA for not yet establishing whether heading a football is linked to dementia.

While understanding the growing frustration, the FA pointed to the complexity of the issue and the lack of useful research - the last study in 2002 failed because it did not provide a big enough volume of data - for the lack of definitive answers up to now.

They swiftly made moves to bring in concussion guidelines when that was proved to be the cause of brain damage but the evidence around links to dementia is much less clear.

It is hoped this new study can produce initial results within three to four years which will provide a clearer understanding.

It's not the only sport wrestling with issues of head injuries and dementia.

The NFL have been dealing with the long-term health effects the sport for a number of years.