FOOTBALLERS who repeatedly head the ball can end up suffering from dementia, new findings have suggested, prompting calls for more research into a long-suspected issue in the sport.

A potential cause of dementia thought to arise from blows to the head has, for the first time, been confirmed in a group of retired footballers following a small study.

Dawn Astle, daughter of former England and West Brom striker Jeff Astle, who died of a degenerative brain disease in 2002, aged 59, said such findings are no surprise.

She expressed her frustration that there has not been more research done on the matter in the years since her father's death, and criticised a perceived lack of action by footballing authorities as "indefensible and disgraceful".

She said: " The evidence is mounting. It is sad to read - I am not surprised, it doesn't shock me at all."

"It's too late for dad. The research is so important for current players and for future players. That's why we need it. I think that's what is so very frustrating - the fact that it's nearly 15 years since my dad died. And the fact that nothing from any footballing authorities has been done.

"It is really indefensible and disgraceful. It really is. This isn't an arthritis or a bruised leg or a broken leg. People are dying. This is killing people."

The brains of six of the 14 retired players involved in the research - none of whom have been identified - underwent post-mortem examinations and four were found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) pathology, while all six had signs of Alzheimer's disease.

CTE can cause dementia and, like Alzheimer's, is characterised by a build-up of abnormal tau protein in the brain.

The rate of CTE detected in the footballers' brains was greater than the 12 per cent average found in a previous study which looked at 268 brains from the general population.

The results show more research is urgently needed in the area, Professor Huw Morris of UCL Institute of Neurology said, but he assured the risk for people who enjoy playing football in their spare time is likely to be low.

He said: "The average footballer heads the ball thousands of times throughout their career, but this seldom causes noticeable neurological symptoms."

The ex-players involved in the study, 12 of whom eventually died of advanced dementia, all began playing football and heading the ball when they were children or teenagers and continued for an average of 26 years.

They were all referred to the Old Age Psychiatry Service in Swansea, Wales between 1980 and 2010.