Former Wales captain Ryan Jones has revealed his fears for the future after being diagnosed with early onset dementia aged 41.
Jones, capped 75 times and a member of the British and Irish Lions squad on the 2005 tour of New Zealand, received the diagnosis of probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in December last year.
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. 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. 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.”
After being diagnosed with depression Jones, who retired in 2015, said 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,” added Jones, who resigned from his post as performance director at the Welsh Rugby Union in October 2020.
“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. 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 either been diagnosed with dementia or is caring for a loved one.
Jones – awarded an MBE in the 2021 Queen’s Birthday Honours list for services to rugby union and charitable fundraising – believes the sport needs to do more to help take preventative measures.
“It [rugby union] is walking headlong with its eyes closed into a catastrophic situation,” Jones said.