Research aims to better understand the risk of dementia in professional rugby players

A research project, funded by charity Alzheimer’s Society, is recruiting professional rugby players in hopes of better understanding the risk of dementia.

Funding of £250,000 from Alzheimer’s Society has enabled the inclusion of 50 former elite rugby players in PREVENT, an ongoing project and dementia research study.


Now being recruited, the 50 former elite rugby players will join 700 people already enrolled in PREVENT.

Participants will undergo an intitial assessment involving physcial health checks, brain scans, memory assessemnts, lifestyle questionnaires and sample collections. They will then return for another visit two years later.

The Alzheimer’s Society has supported the programme, which is helping to understand how we can prevent the condition, since 2013.

Researchers believe that tiny changes in the brain can begin 10 to 15 years before we see the symptoms of dementia: the PREVENT dementia programme is studying people who do not have dementia in their 40s and 50s with the aim of identifying people at the highest risk of developing dementia by spotting factors in midlife.

Early signs

With this new wave of recrtuiment to the project, the research team aims to examine whether former professional rugby players show more signs of early neurodegenerative disease like dementia.

The researches will use advanced brain scanning techniques and cognitive testing to compare their brains to the general population. They will also investigate whether any differences they find are associated with the athlete’s exposure to brain injury during their career.

Former world-leading rugby players Shane Williams and Ben Kay have signed up to the study which forms part of Alzheimer’s Society’s ground-breaking Sport United Against Dementia campaign.

Previous research has also shown that professional football players may be at a greater risk of death from Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s Society has also provided funding for an informal pilot study involving football players, including Alan Shearer.

This research is essential to understanding how and why dementia and neurodegenerative disease develops, helping to uncover what causes dementia to develop and progress and in turn, creating greater opportunities to develop treatments to prevent the disease or slow progression.

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