The opening of a new referral channel to the Alzheimer’s Society for ex-players diagnosed with dementia will be “crucial” according to the Rugby Players’ Association.
The Society announced on Friday it had entered into partnerships with the RPA, the Welsh RPA, the Professional Cricketers’ Association and the League Managers’ Association in football to provide these organizations with a lasting opportunity to recruit any past and present player or manager refer someone who either has dementia or is caring for a loved one.
The goal is to make the process of getting dedicated dementia care as easy and quick as possible for current and former professionals.
Members benefit from personalized advice and practical and emotional support from the Society’s frontline experts to help them live well with the disease and better prepare for the future.
Richard Bryan, RPA’s director of player welfare, said news of the early diagnosis of dementia among a number of former professionals, including England hooker Steve Thompson, who won the World Cup in 2003, raised concerns among their peers and that significant changes have been made since then be RPA’s offer.
“We look at four different areas – education, support for former players, protection for current players and then also research,” he told the PA news agency.
“As part of that planning we looked at what was out there, what organizations we needed to work with because I think what became obvious back then 18 months ago was that it actually wasn’t easy to provide targeted information for ex-athletes on the subject dementia and consequences of head injuries.
“So it was about finding specific avenues for former and current players. Aware of the Sport United Against Dementia (campaign) and the LMA’s existing relationship with the Alzheimer’s Society, we were introduced to the Society. The key for us was where can we direct our members for information, for support, on an issue that obviously worries them?
“Supporting our former players is fundamental and walking this journey with the Alzheimer’s Society is critical and we look forward to developing that relationship.
“Those pathways are evolving and it’s about getting that specific information and that personalized expertise and knowledge about the health and social care system for past and current players.”
The Alzheimer’s Society referral service has been and will continue to be communicated to RPA members and will be based alongside access to the Advanced BRAIN Health Clinic at the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health (ISEH) in central London. This service, funded by Rugby Football Union and Premiership Rugby, opened last November to former elite male and female players aged 30-55.
Bryan said there have been 47 referrals to the clinic so far and that there is a possibility of a future cross-referral from the clinic to the Alzheimer’s Society.
It was also a significant week for protecting brain health in elite rugby as World Rugby introduced new concussion protocols.
Players will face an extended minimum standdown time of 12 days, with the vast majority of players diagnosed with concussion now missing their next game.
Describing the new protocols as a “major step forward,” Bryan added, “Our RPA Players’ Committee, which includes our elected representatives, actually had an impact on these changes.
“We felt a review was needed and it was a chance for our player representatives to have their say. Seeing these changes reflecting the thoughts of our player representatives is an important change and something we would welcome.
“One thing our player representatives were very strong on was players who had suffered a Category 1 concussion – what World Rugby would call an obvious on-field concussion – that those players shouldn’t be able to return within a week.”
Bryan said the RPA Players’ Committee is also urging contact training and controlled contact training guidelines to become mandatory limits and welcomed the introduction of integrated mouthguards into the elite England game next season.
“That has the potential to be a game changer in terms of the data and better understanding of the forces, the contact that players are making in both a training and a game environment,” Bryan added.
“Our goal is to reduce exposure to headbutts of any kind.”