What are the links between contact sports and neurodegenerative diseases? According to a study by the University of Glasgow, rugby players are twice as likely to develop neurodegenerative disease than the rest of the population. And it doesn’t matter what position they hold on the pitch.
To conduct this study, published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, the University of Glasgow team has monitored the health status of 412 former Scottish rugby teams, aged 30 and over at the end of 2020, for 32 years. They compared the results obtained with a panel of over 1,200 people.
During this period 121 rugby players and 381 people in the control group died, a fairly similar mortality rate of around 30%. LSpecialists note a better life expectancy among former rugby players, with an average of 79 years versus 76 for the rest of the population.
On the other hand, the risk of being diagnosed with neurodegenerative disease is twice as high among oval ball players (11.5%, compared to 5.5% in the control group). The risk of being diagnosed with dementia is also twice as high in rugby players, while that of Parkinson’s disease is three times higher. The risk of motor neuron disease is fifteen times higher. The latter is characterized by a progressive loss of motor neurons. This makes motor skills difficult and can lead to progressive paralysis.
The location doesn’t matter
The specialists also stress that “the position on the field (in front or behind) of the former rugby players had no impact on the risk of neurodegenerative diseases”.
“Contrary to the NFL data [National Football League] and football, our cohort of rugby players largely includes amateur athletes, although they compete on an elite international level. In this regard, it is the first demonstration that the high risk of neurodegenerative diseases is not a phenomenon exclusive to professional athletes. in a press release.
Although rugby authorities have already taken measures to reduce risk during matches, the researchers believe that “measures to reduce exposure during training can also be considered a priority.” Additionally, specialists are hoping for targeted interventions on former players and the development of specialized brain health clinics.