Parents have been advised to remove children from junior football clubs that fail to comply with head injury safety guidelines after the first study of its kind found former Scottish professional players were five times more likely to die after developing Alzheimer's disease.

Research led by Glasgow University also found there was a four-fold increase in footballers, born between 1900 and 1976, developing motor neurone disease and the risk of Parkinson's was doubled.

Overall, former players over the age of 70 were three and a half times more likely to die from neurodegenerative diseases, although mortality rates under that age were lower due to a reduced risk of heart disease and some cancers.

Dementia has affected a number of former footballers including Celtic legend Billy McNeil, Dundee United's Frank Kopel, ex-Celtic hero Chris Sutton’s dad Mike and former Scotland manager Ally MacLeod.

Ex-Rangers player Fernando Ricksen died last month after a long battle with motor neurone disease.

Dr Willie Stewart, the consultant neuropathologist who led the study, said concerns raised by families about a possible link between dementia and football had been brushed aside and said there was a strong motivation to provide loved ones with answers. 

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Amanda Kopel said reading the report had been a "painful experience" but added: "I am very hopeful it's going to help so many people in the future."

Dr Stewart suggested parents should consider removing their children from football clubs that were not following concussion guidelines but stressed that he would not "stop kids participating in sport" on the basis of the study's findings.

Scotland was also the first country in the world to produce concussion guidelines in a joint venture by the Scottish FA, Scottish Rugby, sportscotland and the Scottish Government. 

He suggested that clubs could mitigate the risks of dementia by reducing the frequency of heading the ball during training days and ensuring that players were removed from the pitch if they sustained head injuries.

The research found that former goalkeepers were half as likely to require prescription medication for dementia than 'outfielders.'

The Scottish FA said it would be consulting with UEFA and FIFA to establish a global response in light of the "historic study", which is the first to establish a link between brain diseases and professional football.

Researchers compared the causes of death of 7,676 former Scottish, male professional footballers against 23,000 matched individuals from the general population.

Players were less likely to die of other common diseases including heart disease and some cancers, including lung cancer and lived on average three and a quarter years longer.

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Dr Stewart said: "We were conscious of families with very personal stories including Amanda Kopel and Frankie.We needed to get an answer as to whether football was associated with an increased risk of dementia.

"It was surprising - and I hope this changes from today - is the number of families who were told that the football was irrelevant and had nothing to do with why he had dementia.

"I've even had colleagues of mine handing the brains over and saying 'I don't know why you are bothering. It's not relevant, he played football 40 years ago.

"We are now able to tell the families that yes, the football did play some part. It doesn't mean that they would want to turn back the clock and not have the football there but it's just having that understanding."

"We can't say what the absolute risk is but we will be looking at this in the future. 

"All sports now have a responsibility to look at the late effects of the game they are playing. 

"We need to look at better identification of head injuries on the park, better management of head injuries off the park and doing what they can to reduce the risk of head injuries and head impacts.

"Let's just say now, if in doubt sit them out.

"Professional footballers have less ischaemic heart disease, less lung cancer and up until the age of 70 death rates are lower so there are very strong positives.

"But there is this added problem of an increased risk of dementia. I think if parents are putting their kids into sport, when they hand their kid over on a Saturday morning they should ask the the coach what is your head injury management policy?

"Have you got the Scottish concussion guidance in your hands and do you know how to apply it? And if they get any sense that the coaches don't know what they are talking about or haven't seen it, they should just take their kid out and move them to another club or another sport.

"But I wouldn't stop kids participating in sport on the basis of what we have found today."

Glasgow Times:

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He said that protective helmets worn during sports such as American football and rugby provided "no protection" from brain injury and said there was was nothing to suggest the risk of brain injury was greater in the older and heavier leather footballs.

He said further studies were necessary to look at any potential risks from the "community game."

Post-mortem studies, led by Dr Stewart, have already identified a link between dementia and brain injury, known as traumatic encephlopathy (CTE) in a high proportion of former contact sports athletes, including former footballers.

However, the Field (Football’s InfluencE on Lifelong health and Dementia risk) Study, which was commissioned by the English FA and the Professional Footballers Association, is the first to identify that professional footballers had a three and a half times higher rate of death due to neurodegenerative disease.

Ian Maxwell, Scottish FA Chief Executive: “The game has changed immeasurably during the timeline examined by the researchers and we need to understand what exactly causes the increased rates of dementia: whether through concussion or concussion management, heading of the football, style of play, design and composition of footballs, or other factors. None the less, we must be cognisant of the findings and look where possible to reduce any risk.

“While the research is based purely on the professional game and will be discussed at the Professional Game Board, through the Non-professional Game Board we will also consider any implications for the grassroots game."