Loughborough University
s40798-023-00588-2.pdf (1.17 MB)

Cognitive impairment and self-reported dementia in UK retired professional soccer players: A cross sectional comparative study

Download (1.17 MB)
journal contribution
posted on 2024-02-23, 17:49 authored by Tara‑Mei Povall Macnab, Shima Espahbodi, Eef HogervorstEef Hogervorst, Ahmed Thanoon, Gwen Sascha Fernandes, Bonnie Millar, Ashley Duncan, Maria Goodwin, Mark Batt, Colin W Fuller, Gordon Fuller, Eamonn Ferguson, Tobias Bast, Michael Doherty, Weiya Zhang

Background: Previous studies based on death certificates have found professional soccer players were more likely to die with neurodegenerative diseases, including dementia. Therefore, this study aimed to investigate whether retired professional male soccer players would perform worse on cognitive tests and be more likely to self-report dementia diagnosis than general population control men. 

Methods: A cross-sectional comparative study was conducted between August 2020 and October 2021 in the United Kingdom (UK). Professional soccer players were recruited through different soccer clubs in England, and general population control men were recruited from the East Midlands in the UK. We obtained self-reported postal questionnaire data on dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases, comorbidities and risk factors from 468 soccer players and 619 general population controls. Of these, 326 soccer players and 395 general population controls underwent telephone assessment for cognitive function. 

Results: Retired soccer players were approximately twice as likely to score below established dementia screening cut-off scores on the Hopkins Verbal Learning Test (OR 2.06, 95%CI 1.11–3.83) and Verbal Fluency (OR 1.78, 95% CI 1.18–2.68), but not the Test Your Memory, modified Telephone Interview for Cognitive Status, and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living. Analyses were adjusted for age, education, hearing loss, body mass index, stroke, circulatory problems in the legs and concussion. While retired soccer players were younger, had fewer cardiovascular diseases and other morbidities and reported healthier lifestyles, 2.8% of retired soccer players reported medically diagnosed dementia and other neurodegenerative disease compared to 0.9% of controls (OR = 3.46, 95% CI 1.25–9.63) after adjustment for age and possible confounders. 

Conclusions:  UK male retired soccer players had a higher risk of performing below established cut-off scores of dementia screening tests and were more likely to self-report medically diagnosed dementia and neurodegenerative diseases, despite having better overall physical health and fewer dementia risk factors. Further study is needed to determine specific soccer-related risk factors.


Football Association (FA)

Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA)

Versus Arthritis (Grant reference 21595)



  • Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences

Published in

Sports Medicine - Open






  • VoR (Version of Record)

Rights holder

© Crown

Publisher statement

This is an Open Access article published by Springer Nature and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

Acceptance date


Publication date


Copyright date







  • en


Prof Eef Hogervorst. Deposit date: 22 February 2024

Article number


Usage metrics

    Loughborough Publications


    No categories selected



    Ref. manager