Dementia in football: New charity set up to help support victims in sport

Head for Change, a new charity set up to help football and rugby players affected by brain injury, will offer practical solutions, while providing care and support for families; charity is backed by Nobby Stiles' family

Wolves midfielder Joao Moutinho
Image: Players will get more access to support around dementia issues

A new charity, backed by Nobby Stiles' family, has been set up to help football and rugby players affected by brain injury and dementia.

Head for Change will offer practical solutions, providing care and support for families. It will also campaign for the immediate introduction of safer sporting practises in football and rugby, as well as funding further research into the issue.

In recent months a number of well-known sportsmen and women have spoken out about the devastating impact of concussion. Former England rugby player, Steve Thompson, 42, described how he has been diagnosed with dementia. His condition is so bad that he cannot even remember winning the Rugby World Cup in 2003.

Jeff Astle earned five caps for England and played nearly 300 times for West Brom during his 18-year playing career 1:16
New PFA dementia advisor Dawn Astle, daughter of Jeff Astle, will help shape the dementia care provision at the players union for former and current footballers.

The charity, Head for Change, has been set up by families of those affected by dementia. Trustee, Judith Gates' is a carer for her husband, Bill, who played for Middlesbrough in the 1960s and 70s, alongside the likes of Stiles, who died in October. He was coached by Jack Charlton, who died of dementia last year.

The head of a dementia study says research into the impact of playing football on women is urgently needed 0:38
Former professional footballer Mickey Ambrose, who is a co-signatory of the letter calling for another review into the link between heading the ball and dementia, believes 'lighter footballs' could help the problem.

Gates told Sky Sports News: "By learning from the past and moving forward with goodwill, together we can care for the past players, protect present and future players and create a safer game for tomorrow. That is what is needed, that is what players and fans want, that is what we can achieve together. To work towards this goal is both a privilege and a shared responsibility. It will be my husband's legacy".

Another trustee, Dr Sally Tucker is an NHS surgeon and the daughter of a former professional footballer suffering from dementia.

Header generic 2:08
Sky Sports News reporter Geraint Hughes explains the letter a group of former footballers and politicians have sent to government regarding the link between heading the ball and dementia.

She said: "In medicine, we follow the ethical principle 'first, do no harm'. We want to bring the best minds in research together with sports' governing bodies to prevent harm to those who take part, whilst working to ensure the game lives on and research advances our knowledge."

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The charity plans to deliver education programmes on brain health and hopes families of those affected by degenerative brain injuries will get in touch, as well as anyone within sport, who feels they could help be part of the solution.

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