As Assistant Chief Executive at the PFA, Richard Jobson looks afters various areas of the organisations interests in order to provide the best service for former and current players. One of the areas the PFA is especially focused on at the moment is dementia research, particularly concerning concussion, head injuries and heading the ball. Richard recently became a participant in one of the four studies in this area the PFA are currently involved with.
The International Concussion and Head Injury Research Foundation (ICHIRF) are investigating the impact contact sports might have on athletes’ neurological health, compared to a control group with no history of mild brain trauma. Playing as a centre-half for twenty years, Richards’s position meant a lot of heading the ball - and he suffered a few concussions during his career too - making him an ideal candidate for the study. As part of Dementia Action Week, we caught up with him to find out what being part of a research project entails.
Richard, how did you become involved in the ICHIRF study?
The PFA are supplying some funding for participant places on this study and John Bramhall spoke to quite a number of former players to ask if they wanted to be involved and I agreed. I went down for my first day of testing in January.
What did these tests involve?
They tested our balance, saliva, and a lot of our blood and also gave us a brain scan and a general medical. There was a test where we wore a special headset and then had to follow a moving laser shone against a wall. We also had a lot of cognitive tests based on memory which involved recounting lists of words and numbers, and they were the most difficult - they really pushed us to the limit on that. The words were random and became increasingly complex and then we had to repeat the process, but they had warned us that people found this the hardest part. The process took a whole day and I found it really interesting.
Why is it important for the PFA to be involved in this kind of study?
We have a duty of care to our members, and health and safety is really important to us - not just for current and former players but also for future members of ours. We think its important to get involved and we’ve always stepped forward when asked for funding for studies. This is one of four studies we’re currently involved in and no doubt this is going to be an on-going situation as the outcome of these studies become known. At the moment there’s no proven, categorical link between concussion and the early onset of dementia - but we’ll have to wait and see if that changes as these results are published.
What do you hope the outcome of these studies will prove?
At the moment we’re guessing if there is a link or not - we just don’t know. Once all this information is gathered and research is completed, we will have a clearer indication of whether there is a link between playing football and developing neurological issues later in life.
As part of the study you’ve donated your brain to research. What prompted that decision?
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) – the degenerative brain disease that might be linked to concussion – can only be detected following a brain autopsy once you have passed away, so there’s a call out for people to donate their brains. It’s one of the reasons some answers are probably a long way off, because they have to study a lot of brains before they can draw conclusions. I’m happy to do anything that can help our members, and to ensure their health and safety remains paramount. That will always be the most important thing for the PFA, and the only way we can continue to make sure its our number one priority, is through research.
Dementia is a really terrible disease. A number of us at the PFA have had some first-hand experience of it through family members. It’s heartbreaking to watch and deal with. To best serve our members, we need to know if there is a link between heading the ball and developing this condition in later life. We do what we can to support members and their families going through it, but the studies are a crucial part of that process.
The PFA will always put the wellbeing of our members before anything else. We are committed to funding research that can provide answers for players and their families and supporting all those who suffer any kind of injury as a consequence of their playing career.
Find out more about dementia here.
If you - or a loved one - are struggling with dementia, please contact us to find out more about the support we can provide to PFA members.