We just don’t have the answers – yet
The fact is that the science is not yet ‘there’ in terms of telling our amateur weekend footballer what they should do to minimise their individual risk of dementia. We do not understand why some professional athletes have had devastating diagnoses of dementia, while teammates with equivalent careers do not. What factors make a person more or less susceptible? What warning signs can we find, at the moment of a traumatic brain injury or in the months and years afterwards, that the brain has been damaged and is not healing well? What are the mechanisms, from initial damage by impact or whiplash, that lead to cognitive decline and eventually dementia? And how can we intervene?
Given the complexity of individual genetics and the culmination of exposure to the 12 modifiable risk factors over a lifetime, it seems clear that each person – each brain – has their own unique risk profile for dementia.
Better, longer-term research into not just elite athletes but grass-roots players, investigating males, females, adolescents and children, will help forge the best way forward. Biomarkers in measures including blood and saliva will facilitate diagnosis and treatment of traumatic brain injuries and dementia. One day, hopefully not too far off, we will be able to assess each individual for their pre-existing risk factors and tailor a custom brain health plan that appropriately manages their risks throughout their life. Until then, I’ll be doing what I can to keep moving – and mind my head.
To learn more about the next steps needed in research around sport and dementia prevention, read about our recent work with Alzheimer’s Research UK.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Health Policy Partnership.