Wearing helmets may be a no-brainer, especially when one plays rugby or football and tries to protect oneself from head injuries. However, Julian Bailes, a neurological consultant to the NFL Players’ Association (NFLPA), claims that NFL players have a higher dementia risk if they wear helmets.

Bailes, who is a founding member of the Brain Injury Research Institute as well as a professor and chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at West Virginia University School of Medicine, says that helmets increases bleeding. Studies have warned that contact sports cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy, causing confusion and dementia years after injury.

With the help of Huw Morris, a neuroscientist from the University, the research team is trying to find out the biomarkers that show brain damage through biosamples from players from the Saracens Rugby Club. The researchers will collect blood, urine and saliva samples at the beginning of the season and will follow up on the players afterward.

They aim to study what happens to a player’s body during an impact and head injuries while playing. If they are able to discover these markers, then this would improve the safety of sports by identifying which players are fit to play sports, reinforcing current medical tests.

The researchers also attach accelerometer patches that measure the forces on a player’s body. Moreover, dangerous moves can be identified so players will be instructed on what move increases harm.

The study will be able to change or improve current guidelines and policies, making them more efficient. Potential long-term brain damage does not usually show early warning signs so the new study would be a game changer.


An earlier study found that cyclists who wear helmets tend to engage in risky behaviours more frequently, believing that helmets protect them from any injuries. But the researchers from the University of Bath showed cyclists are safer when they are not wearing helmets, echoing Bailes’ claim.