Sir Bobby Charlton health: Football legend’s ‘difficult’ battle with ‘terrible disease’

Bobby Charlton: A look back at his career in numbers

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Back in November 2020 Charlton’s wife Lady Norma Charlton revealed the devastating news that the 249 goal-scoring star had been diagnosed with the progressive disease. The news closely followed the deaths of his former Manchester United club-mate Nobby Stiles on Friday and his older brother Jack Charlton in July 2020. The news of Charlton’s diagnosis hoped to spark an investigation into the potential links between football and neurological illness and for governing bodies to mitigate the risks of repeated head trauma.

In the statement released by Old Trafford, where Charlton remains on the board of directors a spokesperson said: “Everyone at Manchester United is saddened that this terrible disease has afflicted Sir Bobby Charlton and we continue to offer our love and support to Sir Bobby and his family.”

As previously mentioned, Charlton’s diagnosis is yet another in a long line of footballing legends who have suffered with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Back in 2003, it was announced that Nobby Stiles had developed the first tell-tale signs of the condition, which was around a similar time to a coroner report commenting on West Bromwich Albion forward Jeff Astle’s death, which concluded a definite link between the disease and the sport.

Rumours surrounding Charlton’s dwindling health were first sparked after he took a step back from public life. And after failing to attend his brother Jack’s funeral, concerns for his health struggles seemed more serious than first thought.

In the hopes that the news of Charlton’s diagnosis could “help others,” his brother Tom spoke exclusively to The Mirror describing his dismay at the diagnosis.

Speaking in November 2020, Tom, 74, said of the condition: “It’s really very sad and I had suspected it. I phone him regularly to make sure they are both OK.

“Norma would put me on to Bob and we’d have a little chat but lately, the last few times, I’ve not spoken to him.

“I think he was unwell. But you couldn’t ask for anyone better to look after you than Norma.

It is so difficult for people around them because I remember Jack’s wife had an awful time and she was a pillar.”

In light of the news, former England striker Gary Lineker, who has also spoken publicly about his own fears of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s, tweeted: “t another hero of our 1966 World Cup winning team has been diagnosed with dementia. Perhaps the greatest of them all, Sir Bobby. This is very sad and deeply concerning.”

An analysis funded by the PFA and the FA back in 2019 finally confirmed many footballers’ fears, concluding that there was a five-fold increase in the risk of Alzheimer’s, a four-fold increase in motor neurone disease and a two-fold increase in Parkinson’s among former players.

Other research conducted by the University of Glasgow showed that former professional footballers were 3.5 times more likely to die of neurodegenerative disease, which led to calls for dementia to be labelled as a potential industrial disease.

Having neurodegenerative disease formally recognised would allow former players to make a claim for industrial injuries disablement benefit, as is the case with more than 70 other diseases included in the scheme.

Then in August 2021, following even more research, Dr Willie Stewart of University of Glasgow, who leads the landmark Field study, says the game must ask whether the aspect of heading the ball is “absolutely necessary”, and that football, he said, should now come with a health warning attached.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention explains that dementia refers to a general term that covers the impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interferes with doing everyday activities. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia and typically begins with people forgetting about recent conversations or events.

The NHS warns that memory loss can be annoying if it happens occasionally, but if it’s affecting your daily life, or it’s worrying you, or someone you know, you should get help from a GP.

However, dementia is not only about memory loss. It can also affect the way individuals speak, think, feel and behave. Someone with early to middle-stage Alzheimer’s disease may suffer from the following:

  • Misplace items
  • Forget the names of places and objects
  • Have trouble thinking of the right word
  • Ask questions repetitively
  • Show poor judgement or find it harder to make decisions
  • Become less flexible and more hesitant to try new things
  • Obsessive, repetitive or impulsive behaviour
  • Delusions (believing things that are untrue) or feeling paranoid and suspicious about carers or family members
  • Problems with speech or language (aphasia)
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Changes in mood, such as frequent mood swings, depression and feeling increasingly anxious, frustrated or agitated.

Alzheimer’s disease is thought to be caused by the abnormal build-up of proteins in and around brain cells. One of the proteins involved is called amyloid, deposits of which form plaques around brain cells. The other protein known as tau, forms tangles within brain cells.

As well as brain and head injuries, other known risk factors of the condition include the following:

  • Age
  • Family history
  • Race
  • Poor heart health
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol.

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