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This week has seen the announcement that the family of the late Jeff Astle have set up a foundation to increase awareness of brain injury, particularly in the sporting arena.
Jeff was a high profile footballer who was in the World Cup Squad of 1970 but died in 2002 at the age of 59 from a condition called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. This is a disease of the brain often found in those known to have sustained some form of head injury previously, including concussions. It is particularly common amongst boxers who take severe blows to the head on a regular basis and used to be known as punch drunk syndrome.
Essentially the condition causes a progressive deterioration of the brain tissue and has been know to occur at any time after a trauma to the head, it could be as little as days or as long as decades before it is detected. Symptoms commonly associated with this condition are very similar to brain injury type symptoms to include confusion, memory loss, increased agitation and impulsivity.
It is thought that Jeff could have been pre-disposed to such a condition due to the repeated heading of footballs throughout his career. His wife spoke after his death and stated that the pathologist found his brain resembled that of a boxer, such was the extent of the injury. This may seem unlikely to some but it certainly demonstrates the delicate nature of the brain and how persistent trauma upon it can have lifelong implications.
It has been indicated by Neuroscientists in the UK and accepted by many that heading a football is particularly dangerous to children whose brains are more vulnerable to trauma whilst they are still developing. However specific guidance from the Football Association regarding this issue and the potential impact for football players is still awaited.
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