Dawn Astle has agreed to lead a dedicated dementia department in the Professional Footballers’ Association as part of the union’s push to ensure support for former players with neurodegenerative diseases is “a top priority”. Last month marked 20 years since Astle’s father, Jeff, the former England and West Brom forward, died aged 59 from accumulated brain trauma.The PFA’s chief executive, Maheta Molango, who was appointed last June, said he was “acutely aware that this is just the first step”. Astle will speak to current players to help raise awareness.In 2019 a professional study by Dr Willie Stewart, a neuropathologist, found that former professional footballers were 3.5 times more likely to die with dementia than the general public.“As the players’ union, and the voice of professional footballers, it is vital that the PFA is stronger in challenging the industry to ensure the wellbeing and interests of former players living with dementia are better represented,” Astle said.“I will always continue to support former players and their families living with dementia now, but a key focus of this new role will be to strengthen protections for current players and future generations.”Astle, who has been highly critical of the PFA, will share her experiences as part of a role that will involve education, monitoring research and discussing the issue with key stakeholders.The former Wycombe midfielder Matt Bloomfield, who announced his retirement in the Guardian on Wednesday after a series of concussions, is among those keen to support the programme. Bloomfield was previously on the PFA management committee and lobbied for concussion substitutes. “The education around brain health needs to be that you cannot take any shortcuts or any chances,” said the 37-year-old, who made more than 550 career appearances.Rachel Walden, whose father, the former Portsmouth player Rod Taylor, died with dementia, will lead the department’s family support team.Astle will combine her role with the work of the Jeff Astle Foundation, a charity through which she has supported about 200 families of former players living with dementia.