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Brain injury

Brain clinic created to support former elite rugby players

The Advanced BRAIN Health Clinic provides a specialist pathway for retired male and female rugby players aged between 30 and 55

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A dedicated clinic for retired elite rugby players who have concerns over their brain health, which will also help advance world-leading research into brain injury in sport, has opened in the UK. 

The Advanced BRAIN Health Clinic provides a specialist pathway for both male and female rugby players aged between 30 and 55, who are former England internationals or those have played elite club rugby in England. 

The opening of the clinic, based at the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health (ISEH) in central London, will offer long-term, ongoing medical assessments to former players, while also carrying out research to help advance knowledge around head injury in sport and ways to improve brain health. 

This new service complements existing specialist clinics at the ISEH in London and Birmingham (RECOS) that provide concussion assessments and management plans for players who are currently competing at both elite and recreational levels.

The Advanced BRAIN Health Clinic is operated by independent experts Professor David Sharp and Dr Richard Sylvester, in partnership with the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and Premiership Rugby.

Professor Sharp, from the Department of Brain Science at Imperial College London and the UK Dementia Research Institute, said: “Players, coaches, clubs and their support teams may have concerns about the long-term impacts of their sport on the brain, and how these risks can be assessed and mitigated. 

“Our new clinic and the aligned research programme will use the latest clinical investigations to identify the cause long-term symptoms retired players may have and will help us to develop new ways to improving the brain health of retired rugby players.”

All players attending the clinic will first undergo a comprehensive set of half day assessments at ISEH, including tests of their cognitive function, 3T MRI scanning to identify subtle structural and functional changes to the brain, and blood tests and a blood biomarker assessment to determine any signs of neurodegeneration or inflammation within the brain. 

Once baseline test results are acquired and consolidated, retired players will return to ISEH between four and eight weeks later to have a face-to-face neurological consultation from an expert in the assessment and management of post-traumatic and neurodegenerative disorders.

Any treatment needs or brain health actions will be shared with the player and their GP.

This process will be repeated two and four years later to assess any time-related changes in brain health. 

The clinic is supported by an integrated research programme to examine the risk, causes, assessment and management of neurological, psychiatric and cognitive symptoms occurring following participation in elite rugby.

Phil Winstanley, rugby director at Premiership Rugby, said: “We continue to invest in world-leading care for our current players but this new clinic is a commitment that we will invest in their health at the end of their career.

“This clinic will allow players the opportunity to gain access to leading independent experts and reassure themselves about their brain health whilst providing the game with the opportunity to better understand the impact of playing rugby. 

“There has been a significant investment of time and resource to get this operational and this is another example of the collaboration and investment in player welfare by the English game.”

Simon Kemp, RFU medical services director, said: “We’re delighted that the doors to this clinic are now open for clients. 

“Since the initial announcement earlier this year we have worked hard with ISEH, PRL and Imperial College London to get things up and running. 

“We hope this clinic will help many recently retired rugby players who might have concerns about their brain health, while allowing us to further develop our understanding in this area.” 

Dr Richard Sylvester, consultant neurologist at ISEH, the National Hospital of Neurology and Neurosurgery, and Homerton University Hospital, added: “The clinic will provide first-class medical care to retired rugby players with neurological symptoms and concerns about their brain health. 

“The allied research programme provides an incredible opportunity to understand the underlying basis of these issues and will provide important insights into the effects of playing professional rugby on subsequent brain function. We look forward to seeing our first patients.”

More information for any retired elite rugby player aged between 30 and 55 who may want to attend the clinic is here 

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