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SBD Global/August 5, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Brain Injury Expert Says Rugby May Cause Early Onset Dementia

Brain injuries expert Dr. Willie Stewart "has discovered what he believes to be the first confirmed case of early onset dementia caused by playing rugby," according to the BBC. Stewart said the discovery suggested "one or two" players competing in the Six Nations every year may go on to develop the condition. The neuropathologist "examined brain tissue for abnormal proteins associated with head injuries and dementia." The former rugby player "had higher levels than a retired amateur boxer." The boxer had been diagnosed with dementia pugilistica -- more commonly known as punch drunk syndrome -- "which is thought to affect up to 20% of boxers who retire after long careers." Stewart, a consultant at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, said, "What we are finding now is that it is not just in boxers. We are seeing it in other sports where athletes are exposed to head injury in high levels. Those sports include American football, ice hockey and also now I have to say I have seen a case, the same pathology, in somebody whose exposure was rugby." Stewart said that "he expected other cases similar to the one he had found to emerge in the near future as more doctors become aware of the link" (BBC, 8/2). The BBC's John Beattie opined the new research is "a game-changer for rugby." I feel like "shouting hallelujah!" I am fed up of watching int'l players being concussed, knocked out, sent dizzy -- whatever you want to call it -- "and then either jumping back to their feet and playing on or going to the sidelines then wandering back." Players have to understand that "you can get a hip replacement, a knee replacement, and even a heart replacement but as yet there is no brain replacement" (BBC, 8/3).

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