Thursday, September 23

‘My personality has changed’: readers on rugby, head injuries and dementia | Rugby union

‘Players have to know the risks from an early age’

I had at least seven concussions playing rugby, the last of which triggered hallucinations – seeing faces on the walls, hearing voices, and not being able to sleep. I was 18 years old and the experience changed my relationship with the sport. I’ve only played a handful of times since then. I am often concerned that my history of concussions means that I am vulnerable to dementia when I am older. I love rugby, and the subject is being taken more and more seriously, but without proper education about the risks involved, I fear that more people would resent the sport. Players must know the risks they run from a young age. Joe Ronan, 21, Greater Manchester

‘There is a lack of awareness between parents and coaches’

I am a physiotherapist who has worked with various rugby teams, up to the international level. I am concerned about all rugby but especially amateur, where there is less knowledge and medical support. I am also particularly concerned about the younger players. The developing brain takes longer to recover from the impact. There seems to be a lack of awareness among parents and coaches about the impact of concussion. Athletes want to get to the next level, so they can hide the symptoms. I don’t think the link between rugby and dementia is questionable for the older generation, especially at the elite level where there was more contact due to the game going professional and the rise of the biggest, strongest and fastest athlete . I just hope the next generation is protected with knowledge, fewer contact days, and better guidelines for getting back to playing. I’m Motum, 36 years old, Sevenoaks

‘I hope we regulate brutality outside the game’

I played from 1976 to 2003 as a closed-head prop and was a referee from 1977 to 2008. I had numerous concussions. I remember a game where I left the field but then headed home on the Los Angeles freeways. OK, I really don’t remember that; I remember they told me. I hope we regulate the brutality of the game, but while money is the engine, I don’t see this happening anytime soon. Kate Hancock-Cooke, 62, Wisconsin

‘Diagnosing and treating patients with demented diseases’

I am an NHS doctor and an avid rugby fan. My partner spent time working in New Zealand as a geriatrician. She was amazed at how many Kiwi men she found in her clinics with cognitive impairment in their 60s and 60s. Could this be a direct result of rugby-related chronic traumatic encephalopathy? We certainly had that discussion. My life would be vastly poorer without rugby, but will I encourage my three-year-old to put on a pair of boots? I’m not so sure anymore. That’s not something I thought I would ever say, but I diagnose and manage patients with demented diseases for a living. Could I live with myself if he was diagnosed with dementia in his 40s after an illustrious rugby career that I helped set him on track? Absolutely not. Ross Cunningham, 33, London

‘I was dizzy and distracted, anxious and angry’

During a game last October, an opponent’s head collided with mine in a ruck. It hurt a lot, but I didn’t pass out, so I played the last 15 minutes. I felt weird after the game, so much so that I didn’t want to go to the bar. The next day I couldn’t do anything. My amazing wife normally works Sundays and I do housework (bad), but she came home to find nothing done and I couldn’t explain why. I struggled with work on Monday, but on Tuesday my boss and my wife colluded to get me to the hospital. I had an MRI that showed some bruising on both sides of the brain but luckily it didn’t bleed. I took the rest of the week off. After feeling dizzy and detached for the next several weeks, I went to the hospital again and was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome. He was dizzy and distracted, anxious and angry. I let go of each and everyone and I was not myself at all. I couldn’t stand the noise or multiple conversations. During Christmas I admitted that I needed help. I had a bit of CBT online with the NHS and in February I felt physically better, but it wasn’t until May that I mentally returned to the bedroom. It’s still hard for me to identify when I’m being agile and I still forget the words, but over a year later I feel like I’m 90%. Pete Barraud, 39, Liphook

‘My son still has headaches two years after a concussion’

My son was on the brink of a professional rugby career, but very wisely stopped playing after a concussion, from which he was slow to recover. Two years later, he still has mild headaches. The rules should be changed to benefit lighter, fitter and faster players and to reduce the number of hard shots. There should be more research on protective helmets and the approach for those under 18 should be studied. Roderick O’Grady, 60, London

Some readers were particularly concerned about young and amateur players.
Some readers were particularly concerned about young and amateur players. Photograph: Alan Walker / Alamy

‘I opened the refrigerator door and had my pants tucked in’

In the mid-nineties I received a blow to the head caused by the knee of our own prostitute. A pure accident. I saw more than stars! For a few days I was confused at times, doing silly things like opening the refrigerator door and discovering that I had put my pants on. I had to take medicine for 30 days to reduce bruising on my brain. To this day I am still aware of that injury. I can feel “something” just above my right ear, a dull complaint that has persisted for 24 years, although there have been no other ill effects. I bought a scrum cap after that. Head protection should be mandatory in all areas. Glenn Smart, 65, Ashington

‘The excessive physical nature of sport must be addressed’

I am a recently retired professor of neuropharmacology and I am extremely concerned about the link between dementia and rugby. Serious concussions have become increasingly apparent since the sport turned professional. As someone who has been involved in teaching and research on the brain throughout an academic career for over 40 years, I have always been intrigued by why concussion and repeat trauma have not received much more attention. I wouldn’t want to see rugby disappear for a moment, not for all the physical battle that is taken away from it, but the incidence of brain damage due to the excessive physical nature of the sport needs to be addressed. Perhaps a detailed examination before the start of each season could help identify the first signs of a traumatic brain injury. If annual scans were introduced, I suspect we would see a number of early retirements. Roland Jones, 67, Bath

‘Anguish is sadder because it can be prevented’

I recently retired from my job as a Senior Lecturer in Nursing. In my last role, there were three men who had early-onset dementia as a result of brain damage suffered during their rugby careers. The anguish of the individual and their families, who have to witness the slow deterioration of their loved ones, is both sadder and preventable. I am also concerned about young players. The frontal lobes of the brain are not fully connected until the age of 25, yet we are exposing young people to brain damage. I’ve always been a fan of rugby, especially the league, but this is a matter of urgency. I don’t want to support the sport by going to games and paying to watch it unless it’s safer. There needs to be more independent investigation by people with no vested interests in this lucrative sport. Fiona Cassells, 67, West Lancashire

‘I have fits of anger and forgetfulness’

I played for Newport and Newport Saracens, and have coached for Wasps, London Welsh, and Blackheath. I have symptoms very similar to Alix Popham and Michael Lipman. Attacks of anger and forgetfulness. My wife has recently noticed that she is confusing my words. I have had numerous concussions. One week I had 20 stitches in a wound on the back of my head; I played the following Saturday, butted heads with an opponent and received another eight points to the front of my head. He continued regardless. I have not been to the GP because I am ashamed and I feel like I am eating up his time. I would like World Rugby to fund more research and assemble a working group on this topic. We should learn from the NFL to see how they have addressed the problem. Dai Fussell, 51, Porthcawl

‘Tackling, like smoking, can wait until 18’

I am a professor at the University of Winchester who has researched brain trauma in sport. We should be outraged by the brain trauma produced by rugby. Sport is not more important than the people who play it. My main concern is the children. By statistical representation, almost all rugby players are children. The damage caused in a tackle among children is as significant, or more damaging, than among professionals. They hit softer, yes, but they have less muscle to absorb those blows and their brains are assaulted while they are still growing. Just a few years ago, RFU posters were hung in schools that read: “Rugby is good for you. “Tackling, like smoking, can wait until 18. Eric Anderson, 52, Winchester

‘I know my personality has changed’

I had 11 concussions while playing youth, club, county and semi-professional rugby for 20 years. I could have told you this was going to happen. I have watched players grow in size and speed over the past 20 years as the professionalism and science of the sport have improved. The training got harder and the impacts got bigger. By the time I played my final years, I could barely move on Sundays. I had to chew codeine before getting out of bed. I hid it from the club so I could continue playing. I know my personality has changed, but if you had told me then that I would suffer from depression, anxiety and crippling migraines, I probably would have done the same. I miss the juice on a Saturday even now. Perhaps that decision should be taken from the hands of the young. I do not know. RJ Bird, 42, South Wales

‘I always consider hanging up my boots forever’

Although my club coach has taken a stricter approach to protecting players, concussion is one of the reasons I always consider hanging up my boots for good. When I was 14, I was knocked out twice in the same game for my school. I only came back to the field after the first one because I scolded my coach and we only had 13 players. I spent the next month feeling sick, tired, forgetful, and generally in a bad mood. Now I sometimes hold back on the field and wince at some contact for fear of a blow to the head. Chris Macdonald, 32, Ashby de la Zouch

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