Ryan Jones: Former Wales captain diagnosed with early-onset dementia

David Skippers

Former Wales skipper and back-row Ryan Jones has spoken about his fears for the future after he was diagnosed with with early-onset dementia at the age of 41.

Jones, who represented his country on 75 occasions and played in three Tests for the British and Irish Lions on their tour to New Zealand in 2005, revealed that he received the diagnosis of probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in December 2021.

Scary situation

“I feel like my world is falling apart,” he told the Sunday Times. “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.”

Jones, who received an MBE in the 2021 Queen’s Birthday Honours list for services to rugby union and charitable fundraising, retired in 2015 and after suffering from depression he said he was also struggling with short-term memory issues and 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 quit his position as the Welsh Rugby Union’s performance director 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.”

In June, the Alzheimer’s Society set up partnerships with organisations like the Rugby Players’ Association to issue a permanent way of referring past and present players or managers who have either been diagnosed with dementia or is caring for a loved one.

Lived the dream at Test level

Jones is adamant he would not change his experiences of “living the dream” of playing for Wales in Tests.

However, he feels rugby must do more to help take preventative measures.

“It (rugby union) is walking headlong with its eyes closed into a catastrophic situation,” said Jones.

READ MORE: New Zealand: Carl Hayman gives rare interview on dementia