A career of heading a soccer ball may raise the risk of dementia, according to a small new study in the journal Acta Neuropathologica. Six longtime soccer players who died with dementia were found to have brain injuries from repetitive trauma. All six brains showed signs of damage, and four had CTE. The injuries are the same kind found in American football players, boxers and soldiers hit by explosions. They include a condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which is linked to declining mental function and mood disorders.
“We’re becoming increasingly aware that the risk is higher than we thought,” says Thor Stein, a neuropathologist at Boston University. “Soccer is even further behind than American football in terms of trying to figure out what is the risk. We don’t know.” While many American parents are reconsidering letting their children play football, the authors don’t recommend pulling kids off the soccer field. The health and social benefits of playing sports are well established.