London: Headers used by professional footballers may be prone to develop dementia later in life, a new study warned today.

The research by University College London (UCL) and Cardiff University follows anecdotal reports that players who head balls may be more prone to developing dementia later in life.

The researchers examined the brains of five people who had been professional footballers and one who had been a committed amateur throughout his life.

They had played football for an average of 26 years and all six went on to develop dementia in their 60s.

While performing post-mortem examinations, scientists found signs of brain injury called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in four cases.

CTE has been linked to memory loss, depression and dementia and has been seen in other contact sports.

“When we examined their brains at autopsy we saw the sorts of changes that are seen in ex-boxers, the changes that are often associated with repeated brain injury which are known as CTE,” UCL’s Prof Huw Morris, co-lead researcher on the study was quoted as saying by the BBC.

“So really for the first time in a series of players we have shown that there is evidence that head injury has occurred earlier in their life which presumably has some impact on them developing dementia,” he said.

However, the researchers add that the risk is extremely low from playing recreational football.

In the study, published in the journal ‘Acta Neuropathologica’, the report acknowledges the research cannot definitively prove a link between football and dementia and are calling for larger studies to look at footballers’ long-term brain health.