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Scientists reveal link between rugby and dementia

Posted in: Head and Brain Injuries Sporting Injuries 

Although early onset dementia has only ever been associated with boxing, Dr. Willie Stewart – a brain injury specialist – has revealed a worrying link between the illness and many other high impact/injury sports, including rugby. A recent BBC interview heard Dr. Willie Stewart discussing research that he had carried out with a former rugby player over the last few months. He examined tissue sections and discovered abnormal proteins that are usually related to dementia and head injuries.

Only now becoming recognised

The examined player’s brain showed abnormally high levels of the protein, higher than the levels of a retired amateur boxer with dementia pugilistica (also known as punch drunk syndrome); symptoms of which tend to appear around 15 years after the beginning of the boxer’s career, including poor speech coordination, poor memory and personality differences.

Dr Stewart, when speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Sport Nation programme, said: “What we’re finding with people who’ve survived head injuries is that their brain shows changes down the microscope that look very much like what you would see in people with dementia, so similar abnormalities in people with Alzheimer’s Disease.

It has always been known that boxers are prone to the illness due to suffering repeated concussive injuries through blows to the head. But this is only starting to be recognised within other high injury sports such as rugby, ice hockey and American football. As a result of this evidence, Dr Stewart, from the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, believes that players and organisers should take greater precautions when involved in such high impact sports.

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