Ryan Jones: Former Wales rugby captain reveals early-onset dementia diagnosis at age of 41
"Rugby is walking headlong with its eyes closed into a catastrophic situation," says Ryan Jones after revealing he has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia at the age of 41; he calls for the sport to take more preventative measures now
Last Updated: 17/07/22 12:45pm
Ryan Jones, the former captain of the Wales rugby team, has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia at the age of 41.
Jones has 75 international caps and was a member of the British and Irish Lions squad that toured New Zealand in 2005.
He received a diagnosis of probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) last December.
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In an interview with the Sunday Times, Jones said, "I feel like my world is falling apart.
"I am really scared because I've got three children and three step-children and I want to be a fantastic dad.
"I lived 15 years of my life like a superhero and I'm not. I don't know what the future holds."
Jones had retired from playing rugby in 2015 and resigned from his post as performance director at the Welsh Rugby Union in October of 2020.
"I am a product of an environment that is all about process and human performance. I'm not able to perform like I could, and I just want to lead a happy, healthy, normal life," he said.
"I feel that's been taken away and there's nothing I can do... I can't train harder, I can't play the referee, I don't know what the rules of the game are anymore."
Jones revealed that after experiencing depression he began to have short-term memory problems and was becoming forgetful.
"It terrifies me because I don't know if, in two years' time, we're sat here and these episodes are a week long, two weeks' long or permanent," Jones said.
"That's the fear, that's the bit that never leaves. That's the bit I can't shake off.
"Every episode I have also leaves a bit of a legacy. Everything we cancel, every relationship that I poison or don't have time for anymore, just makes it a little bit tougher to cope," he added.
"I don't know how to slow that down, make it stop, what to do."
Last month, the Alzheimer's Society established partnerships with organisations such as the Rugby Players' Association to provide a permanent way of referring any past and present player or manager who has been diagnosed with dementia or is caring for a loved one.
Jones was awarded an MBE in the 2021 Queen's Birthday Honours list for services to rugby union and charitable fundraising. While he maintained he wouldn't change the experience of "living the dream" of playing for Wales, he believes the sport must do more to take preventative measures.
"It is walking headlong with its eyes closed into a catastrophic situation," he said.
Greenwood: It saddens me to my core, we've had enough warning shots
Former England international Will Greenwood believes while rugby has progressed in dealing with dementia, there is still much that needs to be done.
"First of all, I am sending just the most amount of love to one of the great blokes on the planet Ryan Jones.
"I mean it saddens me to my core and we've had enough warning shots and its needs continued efforts from the powers that be to make sure that they'll be in as safe a place as possible," he told Sky Sports. "We must do absolutely everything we can when we educate kids in tackles and the contact area that we educate them correctly.
"At times there has been arguments that we have had too many yellow cards, too many red cards - that's what needs to happen to make sure we start to tackle low, and then doctors are immediately removing players from the field of play, to make sure that players are fine to continue. They have just changed the laws so that any sort of head contact means 12 days off.
"It is a sport that is contact ridden and will continue to deliver injuries and head injury. If we can educate the kids enough to make sure that when they get to 18 or 19 they're as healthy as they possibly can be and then have their own personal viewpoint on whether they want to take place take part in a wonderful game that it is, knowing the potential injuries just as boxers do, just as jockeys, just as motor racing drivers do.
"It's always sad when any sport has these sorts of stories, but I do feel where we once lived in the dark ages, we are now in an enlightened sport, and we are doing everything we can to make sure it's as safe as possible."
Campaign group calls for action
Players should start missing games in order to protect them from long-term brain injuries, a leading safety campaign group for the sport has said.
"Ryan Jones is the latest high-profile player to reveal this devastating diagnosis, but sadly he won't be the last," Progressive Rugby - a non-profit rugby union lobby group - said in a statement.
"We commend Ryan's bravery for speaking out on behalf of the numerous other players in the professional and amateur game who are still coming to terms with the brutal impact brain injury is having on their life.
"The focus must now be on learning the lessons and ensuring that current and future players are protected from the same debilitating fate.
"It is time for everybody involved in the game to prioritise individual player welfare. If that means protocols erring on the side of caution and players being rested and missing games, it is a small price to pay to try and protect the long-term health of its participants.
"We can, and must, make the game of rugby union as safe as possible so that future generations aren't deprived of all the wonderful things it can offer."