The 61-year-old is the BBC’s lead presenter for both live football matches and international tournaments, but in a surprise comment he confirmed that he will be getting extra checks on his brain in order to check for signs of dementia. After a total of 567 competitive games during his senior career the star said he was “concerned,” not only for himself but every footballer, following evidence that suggests a link between heading a ball and the risk of dementia.
In shocking statistics, research showed that professional footballers are three and a half times more likely to die from a brain disorder than the general population.
The data prompted Parliament to launch an inquiry into the link between the popular sport and dementia.
Talking about his own worries about developing the brain condition Gary said: “I’ve had conversations with Alan Shearer and Ian Wright and others about the worry that, come ten, 15 years, that it might happen to one of us.
“The odds suggest that it probably will. I have regular health checks, including the brain. So far everything is ok.
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“I’ll have my triannual test this summer and ask if there’s anything they can establish around the brain, because I don’t see how, given the circumstances, any footballer wouldn’t be worried about it.
“It’s a worry. I don’t mind admitting that it concerns me. There’s no question there’s a link.”
It is important to point out that there has been no proven link between heading the ball and dementia, but Gary is certain that the statistics are no coincidence.
Surprisingly, the star’s concern about developing the condition is not a new one. When still playing professionally, the star made a “conscious decision” to very rarely head the ball in training.
He added: “I made a specific decision formed by me watching central defenders every day getting the ball kicked up and just heading ball after ball. I used to think, ‘That can’t be good for your head.’
“I don’t know whether that’s too late for me – the damage might have been done. Maybe I’ve got no damage.”
Despite his concerns, the star went on to explain that he doesn’t regret the career that he had.
He added: “[Football] is my love, it’s my everything. It’s given me the best life ever, and would I change it, even if something like that happened? No.
“I’m 60 now, if it comes on in 10 years’ time, it comes on in 10 years’ time, but I’d have had 70 unbelievable years. I don’t know what the next 10 years have in store for me.”
In order to help those currently still playing football Gary suggested limiting the amount of heading within training. Adamant that he doesn’t want the game as a whole to make too many changes, he is urging for some minor rethinks.
Gary said: “You can take heading out of training, or limit it massively.
“Exercises where defenders are heading it clear, crosses are sent in and players are heading the ball away and at goal repeatedly – bang, bang, bang – most damage will probably be done then.”
Lineker is also one of 60 footballers who launched a campaign to help those affected by dementia back in August of this year. The charity Head For Change was founded by family members of ex-players suffering from neurodegenerative disease.
Dementia is a term used to describe a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities. There are many different types of the syndrome and many different causes.
According to The Mayo Clinic, Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80 percent of all dementia cases.
The condition affects the brain slowly, but the Alzheimer’s Association provides 10 warning signs and symptoms that indicate individuals could be at risk. They include:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Confusion with time or place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood and personality.
If you notice any of these 10 early warning signs in yourself, or someone you know, it is crucial to book an appointment with your doctor and not ignore them. Earlier the detection of the condition may mean you are able to maintain a level of independence for longer.