IT is only by blessed fortune that I have never had to endure the unspeakably dire spectacle of a loved one suffering with dementia. I can only hope I never have to.

The only terrifying glimpse many of us have into the experience comes from the words of those who have bravely spoken out about living through it. People like Chris Sutton, whose father Mike suffers from a degenerative disease brought about by repetitive brain trauma, a horrifying remnant of a career spent heading footballs.

The saddest thing is, Mike Sutton is far from an isolated case. For years now, former players have been falling victim to diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia at a seemingly unnatural rate.

Former Motherwell player John Martis once told me a story about an opposition team that soaked the already leaden footballs of the day in a bath overnight prior to a game to make them heavier, so that comes as little surprise.

READ MORE: New study reveals link between football and dementia

Three of the England 1966 World Cup winning squad have lost their lives to a degenerative brain disease. And in Scotland alone, we have of course lost the likes of Billy McNeill and Frank Kopel, while others like Jimmy Calderwood battle on against such illness.

Mercifully, thanks to the work done by the widows of footballers like Amanda Kopel in Scotland and Dawn Astle, wife of West Bromwich Albion legend Jeff, who died of Alzheimer’s, to shine a light on the topic, the years of football’s blind ignorance appear to be over. Their righteous anger has at last been heard.

It is not just the broader achievement of awareness being raised either. In the case of Amanda Kopel, she succeeded in petitioning the Scottish parliament to extend free personal care to those under 65 who needed access to support when living with disabilities or degenerative conditions. Frank was just 59 at the time of his diagnosis, and so did not qualify for such help in those days.

It appears now too that further progress is about to be made within the game itself, with British football leading the way in identifying the high instances by which players suffer such diseases compared to the general public. Having done so, it is Scottish football that appears to have taken up the baton by looking at practical steps to ensure the next generation of players are protected from the damage playing football can wreak in their later lives.

A study commissioned by the FA and the PFA in England, but led by consultant neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart of Glasgow University, compared the medical records of 7,676 men who played professional football in Scotland and were born between 1900 and 1976 against more than 23,000 individuals from the general population.

The findings were stark and shocking, as Dr Stewart determined that footballers were five times likelier to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, approximately four times likelier to get motor neurone disease, and twice as likely to have Parkinson’s disease in later life compared to an ordinary member of the public.

READ MORE: Football star’s long battle with dementia led to landmark study

In fairness to the Scottish Football Association, the men in the boardroom appear ready to act on this new information, with president Rod Petrie and vice-president Mike Mulraney prepared to submit a raft of measures to tighten the guidelines on heading practice.

One immediate suggestion is to ban headers in matches for under-12s, and the Scottish Youth Football Association has urged them to go one step further and outlaw all training drills which involve heading for children up to the age of 11.

Florence Witherow, National Secretary of the SYFA, said: “The SYFA has previously recommended against training drills that encourage repetitive heading of the ball.

“However, in light of Dr Willie Stewart’s recent study into dementia risks in former professional footballers, we have updated and strengthened the advice to our clubs.

“Any drills which involve heading the ball should be removed from all training sessions for age groups up to, and including, under 11s (7 v 7 teams). As far as possible, heading the ball during games at this age group should also be avoided.”

It is hard to make a case against the advice. Anyone who thinks such measures are a case of political correctness gone mad or just the latest snowflake move from the nanny state has likely never, I would suggest, experienced the ravages of these diseases first-hand. If anything can be done to stop one more person or family going through that ordeal than needs to, surely it is a small price to pay for a much larger reward.

It is rare that the SFA get much credit, but they have already been a pioneering voice in around head injuries and concussion protocol. In fact, led by the advice of their own Dr John MacLean, that concussion protocol has now been adopted across most of Europe.

READ MORE: Scottish Youth Football Association advise to ban heading for under-11s

They have a chance to again be the pioneers in adopting the advice given out by the SYFA, and lead the way in protecting our kids from damage which may come back to haunt them in the most horrifying circumstances in their later years.

Speaking as the parent of an eight-year-old who sees himself as the new Cedric Kipre - albeit a little less physically imposing - as he was the first big proper centre-back he laid eyes on, the new way of playing may take a bit of getting used to as well as a little gentle persuasion.

But if a ‘shoulder-height’ rule was introduced, for example, then surely it can only be a positive thing. It would not only help in the short term by encouraging kids to keep the ball on the deck, giving the residual benefit of improving their technique, but if the long-term benefits are as hoped, the move seems inarguable.

Fail to act now, and football’s authorities will have blood on their hands in the future. I have faith that in Scotland, they will.