A new pilot brain health clinic has been established to help support former Scotland rugby players, adding further to growing provision for former elite athletes in the fight against neurodegenerative disease.
Described as providing a ‘brain health MOT’, the Brain Health Clinic will invite former male and female Scotland players to access the service to help assess possible risks to future brain health.
The clinic – delivered by Professor Craig Ritchie, professor in psychiatry of ageing at the University of Edinburgh and director of Brain Health Scotland – will undertake a three-stage investigation phase involving blood testing, brain scanning and health/lifestyle interviews, which will help build a picture of how the clinicians can best support the individual with a brain health plan.
Work is tailored to the individual patient, providing risk profiling and prevention planning to help manage future health through help and advice on key lifestyle factors such as physical exercise, sleep, diet, sociability and keeping mentally active.
The patient will see the clinician at least 2-3 times over several months, with their GP notified of outcomes. Their results will provide a valuable benchmark to monitor future brain health.
The clinic concept adds further to existing provision, and is designed to develop both a service to former players exposed to contact sport and also a blueprint which forms the basis of a service that is being developed within the NHS for the public and will be rolled out nationally by 2025.
It also has the potential to be developed internationally and clinics delivered across the wider global rugby community.
The Brain Health Clinic, at BT Murrayfield, has been made possible by bringing together world-leading brain health medical experts based in Scotland and the UK.
Brain Health Scotland, Alzheimer Scotland, the University of Edinburgh and World Rugby have all contributed time, expertise and resources towards the ambition of establishing the clinic and its objectives alongside Scottish Rugby, which is funding and hosting the pilot to continue its ongoing role in supporting medical initiatives delivering player welfare programmes.
Scottish Rugby’s chief medical officer, Dr James Robson, said: “I am delighted we are now ready to invite former Scotland players to the pilot Brain Health Clinic at BT Murrayfield.
“Our first discussions on opening such a clinic began over two years ago and it is only down to the vision and commitment of our colleagues at Brain Health Scotland, Alzheimer Scotland, the University of Edinburgh World Rugby and NHS Scotland that we are able to now begin providing this unique service, initially to former players and hopefully in the future out to the public at large.
“While a lot is known about physical and mental health, the health of our brain is an area we continue to learn more about and the clinic is a ground-breaking and essential step in taking that understanding further, and supporting those who have played rugby as they enter later life.”
Professor Craig Ritchie said: “Through Brain Health Scotland and this collaboration with Scottish Rugby we are bringing a compelling evidence base into practice. We now know that brain changes take place in mid-life that if left unmanaged could lead to dementia in later life.
“We also know a lot about the risk factors for these changes and what can accelerate or slow them down.
“We still need to know more, but we know enough to start working with, and for, former players to help them manage their brain health.
“Very soon, we expect very similar services to be launched for the general public within the NHS. The collaboration with Scottish Rugby has really helped accelerate the parallel work we are doing with the NHS.”
Former Scotland Internationalist and British & Irish Lion, Gordon Bulloch, said: “I’m happy to support this initiative and the work the new Brain Health Clinic will deliver. None of us are getting any younger and no-one knows what is around the corner so it’s best to be as prepared as you can.
“I think the work that’s gone in so far to develop the clinic to offer this service to former players can only be beneficial.
“Brain health and physical health go hand in hand and the more we can understand this area the more support we can give players of earlier generations and those who are playing now in the future.”
Former Scotland Internationalist, Jilly McCord, added: “It is great to see Scottish Rugby, alongside medical partners, take such a proactive approach to the long term health of current and former players.
“It is particularly reassuring to know that this service will be more than a one-off assessment and will continue to offer help and advice in the future.
“I know that many former players worry about the impact that rugby may have had on their brain, and this is a very positive step in addressing these concerns and offering tangible support.”
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