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Caring for Former Athletes who live with Neurological Disorders

Research theme: Sport, Health and Performance Enhancement Research Centre (SHAPE)

School: School of Science and Technology


As the links between sport, brain injuries and various neurological disorders continue to be established, there is an increasing focus on the lives of those living with the consequences of their sporting careers. NTU’s team of scholars working in this area seeks to explore the lives of those people and their families as a means of further our understanding of how they might be supported. This work builds on existing work being conducting at NTU within the SHAPE research centre. It draws together colleagues from across the institution, to work with academics The University of Nottingham, Loughborough University, Sheffield University and Manchester Metropolitan University, community partners including Dementia UK, Forget Me Notts, and member of the public whose lives have been affected by a career in sport.

This work is supported by funding from the Foundation for the Sociology of Health and Illness and NTU's Health and Wellbeing Strategic Research Theme. These funds will be used to help tell the unique stories of the sportspersons, their families and carers, it is expected to help better understand how to align patient and family carer needs, with care provision and various services. This initiate stage of the project has four aims:

  • Document the emotional toll that spouses and partners experience from caring for former professional footballers.
  • Explore the ways that roles within the family may shift as changes in health and physical/cognitive abilities occur.
  • Consider any unique issues that may relate to the former footballers’ previous career and the mechanisms by which they have developed their neurological disorders.
  • Ensure the study is co-produced from the outset.

After this work is completed the project team will organise a knowledge sharing event at Nottingham Trent University. This will engage with patients, carers, local communities, and academics. This initial stage of the project will form the foundation from which a larger scale project will be proposed to research councils.

If you would like to be involved in some form or have any questions or comments, please do contact the project lead Dr Christopher R. Matthews –

Caring for Former Athletes who live with Neurological Disorders

The ‘concussion crisis’ has been described as "the most important sports story of the 21st century" (Hobson, 2020). As a response to this, the project PI Christopher Matthews and colleagues organised a symposium funded by NTU titled Concussion in sport - what do we know, and what’s next? It was clear from this event that the crisis is a biomedical issue, as co-applicant Hunter, and steering group members Tom Dening and Angus Hunter Varley, highlighted a body of research that suggests traumatic brain injuries are linked to both acute and chronic health problems, most notably a form of dementia known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). However, the crisis is also social, being marked by government inquiries, attempts at litigation, and media coverage.

Despite the importance of understanding the social nature of the concussion crisis, there is little work on the realities of experiencing and living with the consequences of CTE and, as Dominic Malcolm (2020) argues, sociology has much to offer in developing such knowledge. Recent ethnographic work from Matthews (2019) and AlHashmi and Matthews (2021) provide such contributions by exploring the lived experiences of those who have suffered sports-related concussions and brain injuries.

This project seeks to extend this work by drawing on contributions from the sociology of medicine, health and illness, in particular, Alison Pilnick’s (O’Brian, et al., 2021; Pilnick et al., 2021; 2021; Slocombe, et al., 2022) work using qualitative methods to explore the lives of people living with dementia, and Greg Hollin’s (2021, 2020) recent project studying dementia in sport, to document and theorise the realities of caring for former athletes living with neurological disorders.