Head for Change

Released on the Head for Change website:

Head for Change, the UK charity which is committed to positive brain health and works to be part of the solution to sports related head impacts, announces their support and partnership with Professor Willie Stewart of the University of Glasgow and the Glasgow Traumatic Brain Injury Archive.

Prof Stewart is the leading UK based researcher into sports related dementia. His ground-breaking FIELD research illustrated the strong association between being a professional footballer and neurodegenerative disease, showing that ex-players are around 3.5 times more likely than those in the general population to suffer from dementia. As well as having extensive first-hand knowledge of the UK football and rugby world, Prof Stewart works with a team of international researchers centred in the prestigious Ivy League University in the USA, the University of Pennsylvania. This is the largest and leading research group in traumatic brain injury internationally.

With respect to brain donations and brain banks, sometimes uncomfortable decisions have to be made in order to help others.

The three trustees of Head for Change, Dr Judith Gates, Melanie Bramwell-Popham and Dr Sally Tucker, are passionate about making a difference. Their passion comes from knowing at first hand the devastation that sports related dementia brings to ex-players and their families. Judith and Mel are wives, Sally is a daughter, of affected players. They want no other player or family in the future to suffer what they are all suffering.

Therefore their family members, including former youth international footballer Bill Gates and former international rugby player Alix Popham, have had difficult, but necessary, conversations leading to brave decisions.

They have decided to donate their brains to the research brain bank in Glasgow, to support research into chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the neurodegenerative disease associated with repetitive head impacts. They know that the information from studying their brains postmortem will add to the growing knowledge about CTE and be of help to the young sportspeople of today and tomorrow.

For many reasons, the Head for Change families have chosen to work with Prof Willie Stewart and his colleagues in the Glasgow Brain Injury Research Group.

They follow in the footsteps of the families of Nobby Stiles and Jeff Astle, both of whom trusted Prof Stewart to carry out the necessary postmortems. The Astle and Stiles families have both spoken highly about receiving caring and professional support from Prof Stewart.

Head for Change recognises that a focus of the Glasgow Brain Injury Research Group is working with the former footballers and rugby players, sports which are the primary contact sports in the UK. They also appreciate that UK regulations on ethical practice are a reassuring protection for understandably concerned donors.

Therefore Head for Change would like to inform other footballing and rugby families, who may be considering how they can help future players, that they can contact the Glasgow Brain Injury Research Group (GBIRG) for more information on how to register for brain donation.

Also on the GBIRG website is information on how to enrol in the new study, BrainHOPE, which is designed to reduce the risk of dementia in players of the future, as well as information on a free online course on Brain Health, two projects endorsed by Head for Change.

As a further commitment to supporting global research in these issues, Head for Change is particularly delighted to accept an invitation from Dr Stewart to provide ‘patient and public involvement and engagement’ to the international CONNECT-TBI project and be the voice of affected families. Trustees, led by Dr Sally Tucker, consider it a privilege to be invited to work constructively on cutting edge research designed to deepen knowledge which will ultimately protect players and prevent sports-related dementia.”