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New funding to explore brain health in former elite athletes

The Alzheimer's Society have announced additional funding for the PREVENT Dementia Programme, led from the Centre for Dementia Prevention at The University of Edinburgh.

The PREVENT study has been running since 2013 and involves following 700 volunteers aged 40-59 over a number of years to better understand mid-life brain health and early brain changes associated with increased risk for developing dementia. Volunteers undergo a series of detailed investigations including tests of memory and thinking skills, brain scanning and biosample collection (including blood and spinal fluid samples).

The additional funding will now enable 50 former elite rugby players to join the study. This will further our understanding of how participating in contact sports, including sustaining head injuries, may impact on brain health and risk for developing future degenerative brain conditions. Rugby legends including Wales' Shane Williams and England's Ben Kay have signed up to take part.

Evidence generated through world leading research initiatives such as the PREVENT Dementia programme will directly inform brain health services delivered by Brain Health Scotland.

Professor Craig Ritchie, Director of Brain Health Scotland and Lead Investigator on the PREVENT Programme said:

'The PREVENT Dementia Programme seeks to identify the earliest stages of conditions like Alzheimer’s disease at a point when they could be halted or even reversed. The addition of a cohort of former elite athletes to this programme will allow us to look for issues specific to that group with a view to minimising all players’ risk of developing dementia in the future.'

Professor Willie Stewart, Consultant Neuropathologist and Honorary Professor at the University of Glasgow, and co-investigator for PREVENT said:

'It is vitally important we better understand the links between sports such as football and rugby and dementia, so we can better protect players from any risks they may face. Previous research led by our team at the University of Glasgow demonstrated the increased risk of neurodegenerative disease in former professional football players. I am delighted to be a part of this latest PREVENT study into professional rugby players, and the adjoining pilot looking at professional football players, so we can bring more insight to this important research area.'

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