Upcoming Inquest on Footballer’s Dementia-Related Death – An ‘Industrial Disease’ Caused by Football Heading?

A week ago, the BBC reported that the Senior Coroner for north Wales (east and central), John Gittins, had opened an inquest into the death of former professional footballer, Alan Jarvis.[1]

Over the course of his domestic career as a midfielder, spanning the 1960’s and 1970’s, he played for Everton F.C. and Hull City A.F.C. He also won 3 caps to play for his home nation of Wales.

In later life, Mr. Jarvis lost his speech and was suspected to have been suffering with dementia. He died in a nursing home, in December 2019, aged 76.

Leading expert in this field, Dr. Willie Stewart, undertook a neuropathological exam in January 2020.

Whilst the specific details of the post-mortem report were not itemised in the BBC article, it is presumed that Mr. Jarvis’ brain demonstrated a pathology consistent with dementia pugilistica [otherwise known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)], i.e. clumps of tau tangles in the cerebral cortex, which Dr. Stewart has previously observed in other deceased professional footballers – see edition 243 of BC Disease News (here) to read about Jeff Astle and Rod Taylor.

Dr. Stewart’s report has since been received by the Senior Coroner and it has been intimated that a full hearing will explore whether Mr. Jarvis’ death was linked to the repeated sub-concussive impact of heading a football. It could therefore be the case that Mr. Jarvis’ death is deemed to have been caused by an ‘industrial disease’.

Speaking ahead of the forthcoming inquest at Ruthin County Hall Coroner’s Office, in north-east Wales, Mr. Jarvis’ daughter, Sarah, has spoken of a desire to ‘increase knowledge’ on football heading as a possible occupational health hazard for both retired and even active footballers:

‘I know they say the football was heavy back then, but now it's lighter and faster, so who's to say there's not still going to be the same amount of people coming through with dementia’.

Mr. Jarvis’ family has agreed to donate his brain to the Glasgow Brain Injury Research Group (GBIRG). This is the Glasgow University-affiliated Group responsible for Football’s InfluencE on Lifelong health and Dementia risk (FIELD), which we covered in edition 295 (here). The landmark study of 7,676 ex-professional footballers found that they had:

  • A 5-fold increase in risk of Alzheimer’s disease;
  • A 4-fold increase in risk of motor neurone disease;
  • A 3.5-fold increase in risk of dementia; and
  • A 2-fold increase in risk of Parkinson’s disease.

Intriguingly, the GBIRG will soon be releasing information about an ‘exciting new project’.[2]

 

[1] ‘Football and dementia: Alan Jarvis inquest to explore heading link’ (1 June 2020 BBC)  <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-52883918> accessed 3 June 2020.

[2] ‘Exciting New Project ;-)’ (GBIRG) <https://gbirg.inp.gla.ac.uk/exciting-new-project/> accessed  3 June 2020.