Head collisions may not be sole cause of dementia, World Rugby tells players

Current and former players showing signs of early onset dementia after repeated head impacts have been advised by World Rugby and several leading independent experts that 11 other factors including depression, excessive alcohol consumption or unhealthy eating could explain their deteriorating brain health.

World Rugby, in conjunction with the International Rugby Players association, has launched a global brain health education campaign in response to growing concerns over long-term player welfare which have prompted a legal case against the world’s governing body, the Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union.

Even the merest suggestion, 然而, from the game’s governing body that dementia symptoms could stem from players’ lifestyle choices rather than impacts suffered in matches or training will upset those who insist rugby is the root cause of their issues. The complication is that chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain condition for which the sole known cause is repeated blows to the head, can only be fully confirmed by a postmortem.

Aimed at professional players past and present, the new campaign has been launched at the World Rugby medical commission conference being held in London. The global governing body says it wants “to educate and support” current and former elite players who are concerned about their wellbeing and offer free access to brain health clinics where expert consultation, clinical assessment and advice can be accessed.

一种 video has also been released in which experts outline 12 modifiable risk factors for dementia, only one being a brain injury sustained through playing the game. These include a lack of physical activity, lack of social contact, depression, 孤独, heart disease and other “lifestyle” choices such as smoking, obesity or excessive drinking.

According to Prof Craig Ritchie, chair of the psychiatry of ageing at the University of Edinburgh, there are broader medical issues to be considered. “Long-term cognitive health is extremely complex – and dementia isn’t necessarily a consequence of one factor,“ 他说. “It is important for those involved in the game to understand that by prioritising good brain health, it is possible to reduce the risk of developing dementia and other degenerative brain conditions.

“Rugby players, past and present, can make moves, such as maintaining good health and fitness and tackling stress, anxiety and depression to help reduce certain risk factors, while the sport continues to prioritise reducing the risk of head impacts for players at all levels and stages of the game.”

Another leading expert, Prof Willie Stewart, consultant neuropathologist at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, 格拉斯哥, is supporting the initiative. “This is incredibly important work from World Rugby that will undoubtedly benefit the global game and broader sport. While progress is being made to reduce risk for current and future players through changes to training and gameplay, it is important that the brain health of former players is not overlooked. This initiative highlights the importance of our brain health and the measures we can all take to try and reduce our risk of dementia.”

The former England hooker Steve Thompson, the 33-cap Wales flanker Alix Popham and Carl Hayman, who represented the All Blacks at prop between 2001-07, are among a raft of former players who have joined the legal action described last year as a “ticking timebomb” by Richard Boardman of Rylands Law, who is representing the players.

然而, World Rugby’s chairman, Sir Bill Beaumont, said the game was doing all it could “to safeguard our players” and had “consistently acted on evolving science and evidence” to assist player welfare. “We care deeply about every member of our rugby family,“ 他说. “As a former player myself, I appreciate that some players may be worried about their brain health. We must, and are, putting those players at the heart of our welfare plans. Good brain health is much wider than what happens on the field, and we have more control over it than you would think.

“At the same time, we will not sit still in evolving our game to ensure it best protects those playing it. By providing accessible video resources and high-quality care and support through the establishment of brain health clinics around the world, we can better educate members of our rugby family on what can be a complex and daunting topic.”