With the recent global popularity of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, no doubt inspiring many young children to play the sport, it should be heeded that moves like “headers” need to be utilised with caution. Head injuries have been identified as a potential risk factor for the development of dementia, particularly chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

CTE is a neurodegenerative condition associated with repeated head traumas, particularly in contact sports like football, rugby, and boxing. It is characterised by the accumulation of abnormal tau protein in the brain, leading to cognitive and behavioural changes that can resemble dementia.

Other impacts such as concussions and head injuries that trigger neuroinflammation may also increase the risk of developing dementia or contribute to cognitive decline.

Current athletes should be aware that preventing head injuries to reduce dementia risk is considered to be an important modifiable risk factor. Wearing protective equipment during sports can mitigate the impact of collisions.

Retired athletes from physically demanding contact sports should also have regular medical check-ups, including neurological assessments, to monitor for signs of cognitive decline or other neurological issues.

Coaches, athletes and parents should also be educated about the risks of head injuries and practice proper techniques and safe playing strategies to minimise unnecessary head trauma.

Additionally, if there is a suspected head injury, there should be strict protocols in place such as athletes being removed from play and not being able to return until adequate rest and recovery and being medically cleared by a qualified healthcare professional.

Further reading: Association of Nonconcussive Repetitive Head Impacts and Intense Physical Activity With Levels of Phosphorylated Tau181 and Total Tau in Plasma of Young Elite Soccer Players