Viv Anderson explains how football can fight back against the dementia crisis 1 year ago

Viv Anderson explains how football can fight back against the dementia crisis

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Viv Anderson spoke to JOE about dementia in football and his partnership with Mindset4Dementia, whose new app seeks to tackle the crisis facing the sport.

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The Nottingham Forest legend who made almost 600 professional appearances across his career, playing for the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United as well, has been discussing the way that head injuries were treated when he used to play, and the debate of heading in football.

The issue of brain injuries and brain health in football has received much more attention in recent seasons, with the potential risks that heading in particular can pose to players receiving more scrutiny.

Anderson discussed how during his career there was very little consideration taken for the potential health risk of head injuries.

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Asked whether players or staff ever considered the long-term damage of concussions or head injuries, Anderson replied: "The answer would be no."

"But what springs to my mind is Bryan Robson getting knocked unconscious in one of the games. Obviously the physio was on and everything else. He was definitely out of it. He came back on and played.... we never gave it a second thought.

"The physios, the managers, it was one of those 'listen you've got a bang on the head, get on with.'"

Anderson mentioned the amount of heading in training as well and how players used to have the "biggest, hardest ball with a lace in it" and head 100 balls in one afternoon of training.

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He went on to explain the aims of the Mindset4Dementia app, which uses artificial intelligence to detect the early warning signs of the disease. He said: "We're trying to get the AI incorporated into the procedure and we're looking out for the next generation.

"I've got a 14-year-old at Manchester City's academy and I just don't want him many years down the line to be suffering from dementia. So if there's anything we can do now, to help him through that process, the better it's going to be.

"What we can say is, training sessions when you're 14/15, you've got to limit how many times you're heading the ball, because in a game, you don't head the ball a massive amount compared to training.

"Chris Sutton and Jeff Astle's daughter have been talking about this for the last 10 years, and still nothing is done."

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Notts County and West Brom legend Jeff Astle passed away in 2002 as a result of a degenerative brain disease usually only associated with boxers. His family set up the Jeff Astle Foundation, dedicated to raising awareness of brain injury in all sports, and in 2014 the Justice for Jeff campaign was launched calling for an independent inquiry into a possible link between brain disease and heading footballs.

After Alan Shearer's documentary in 2017 looking at whether there was a link, the debate really gathered momentum, before in 2019 research from Glasgow University found that footballers were three and a half times more likely to suffer from dementia than others in the same age range, and in recent years a number of ex-pros have either been diagnosed with dementia or sadly passed away as a result of brain conditions.

Last year England legend Bobby Charlton was diagnosed with the disease, and Nobby Stiles died in November 2020 after also suffering with advanced dementia.

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Despite all this, it was only after Raul Jimenez's horrific injury last December that concussion substitutions were eventually introduced this year. Even in that fateful Arsenal vs Wolves encounter, David Luiz, the other player involved in the collision, still played on.

It's not just a football issue. Ex-Wales flanker Alix Popham spoke to House of Rugby recently about his work with Mindset4Dementia as rugby attempts to deal with its own issues surrounding long-term brain injuries as a result of playing careers. Popham is in fact one of a group of players taking legal action against the sport's authorities for negligence, and was himself diagnosed with early onset dementia last year.

Mindset4Dementia are aiming to reach 50,000 downloads to raise awareness and understanding of the link between concussion and dementia. For more information about their work visit their website.

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