Female footballers heading the ball could be putting themselves at even greater risk of dementia than male players according to experts at the University of East Anglia.
Dr Michael Grey is running a project to monitor ex-footballers for early signs of dementia.
More than 35 former professional players have now signed up including former Norwich City stars Iwan Roberts and Jeremy Goss, and Crystal Palace hero Mark Bright.
But the research team are urgently looking for amateur and professional female players to take part too.
Research from the University of Glasgow has shown that retired male players are around five times more likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease compared with the average person.
But little is known about when players start to show signs of the deteriorating brain health and even less about the effects in women as the majority of research has focussed on men.
Dr Grey, from UEA’s School of Health Sciences, said: “We know that there is greater risk of dementia in former professional footballers, and we think this is related to repetitive heading of the ball.
“We know very little about how this affects female players, but we think female players are at even greater risk of developing sport-related dementia than male players.
“We know there are physical and physiological differences between male and female players and this could be important when it comes to the impact of repeatedly heading the ball.
“But we don’t fully understand the impact these differences could have, so we are encouraging former amateur and professional female players to come forward to help us with our project.”
The team will use cutting-edge technology to test for early signs of cognitive decline in men and women, that are identifiable long before any memory problems or other noticeable symptoms become apparent.
Dr Grey said: “We have already signed up more than 35 professional male players but we have very few women footballers in the study so far. We are looking for women and men over 40, who live in the UK and do not have a diagnosis of dementia. Testing is conducted on a computer or tablet from the comfort of their own homes and takes around 30 minutes, four times per year.
“We are tracking their brain health over time. And we hope to follow these footballers for many years to come.”
The project is among a number of pieces of work in the Concussion Action Programme, a research group within UEA Health and Social Care Partners.
Want to take part?
The research team are looking for former professional football players, both men and women, who are aged over 40 to take part in the study. Amateur footballers and active non-footballers aged over 40 can also take part.
The research will see a small group of participants coming into the lab, but the majority of the testing will be done online at home.
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UEA are seeking vital funding to support the next stages of this ambitious research.