Sport and a question of neurology

 

Sir, – Frank McNally’s articles often stimulate and direct conversation and thoughts in unpredictable directions, but I’m not sure if they’ve hitherto formed a basis for medical research. Writing about the rarity of heading the ball in Gaelic codes, he may have identified a potentially insightful way to approach an important neurological question, however (“Ahead of his time – Frank McNally on the day Eamonn Breslin shocked Croke Park”, An Irishman’s Diary, February 26th) .

An ingenious study lead by Dr Jerry Morris in the postwar United Kingdom compared the incidence of heart disease in double-decker bus drivers with that in conductors. The former were sedentary at work, while the latter walked up and down more than 500 steps per day. Importantly the two groups were very similar in other ways, of the same social class, working the same shifts, and so on.

And the difference was striking, with drivers suffering far more cardiac issues. Equally ingeniously, he and his team studied company data on the uniforms ordered for these transport workers and showed that the girth of drivers exceed that of conductors, with the gap, like the drivers, widening over time.

In understandable hyperbole, Dr Morris was described by the Financial Times years later as “the man who invented exercise”.

As a generation of soccer players raise questions about the relationship between heading footballs and later dementia, it may be that studies in the Irish elderly population can elucidate cause and effect.

Longitudinal studies on ageing in the Irish population exist, with large databases. A motivated young neurologist might consider attempting to determine from such data whether our former elite Gaelic players, having rarely headed the ball, show less dementia than their soccer playing peers. There are probably few countries where two such similar footballing codes coexist to allow meaningful comparisons to be drawn. – Yours, etc,

BRIAN O’BRIEN,

Kinsale, Co Cork.

Sir, – It is worrying that several rugby players have suffered worrying head injuries that are leading them to instruct solicitors to initiate legal action against their respective rugby unions. That said, it may finally lead to rugby authorities looking into the question of helmets for players. Not necessarily the heavy helmets worn in American football but does it make sense to encourage cyclists to wear helmets lest they might have a crash while those playing a game in which collisions are an integral part wear no protective headgear whatsoever? – Yours, etc,

BRENDAN CASSERLY,

Bishopstown, Cork.