Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Possible links between head-knocks and dementia 'of interest'

A link seems likely between serious head-knocks and dementia, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said. Photo / Mark Mitchell
A link seems likely between serious head-knocks and dementia, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said. Photo / Mark Mitchell

A link seems likely between serious head-knocks and dementia and the strain rugby-related injuries could put on the health system will be monitored, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said.

Dr Coleman, who is Sports and Recreation Minister, a former GP and was himself concussed playing rugby, said the Herald investigation into health problems suffered by some members of the Taranaki 1964 rugby team raised questions that health researchers were looking at.

"I think everybody feels that there is a likely association between head-knocks, concussion and a range of neurological conditions, and indeed there is evidence for some of those links.

"But we have got to continue to look at it and it will play out over time. It is an area of interest, not only to sports, but also the health system."

Five men from Taranaki's 1964 Ranfurly Shield-winning team have been diagnosed with dementia, which their families attributed to concussions from their playing days.

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew has said the organisation was sympathetic to the plight of former players, but its obligation is to protect the current generation.

Dr Coleman, who played rugby as a young man, suffered a mild concussion while playing in the front row as a 16-year-old.

"That would not be uncommon for anyone who has played rugby. But I think there's a far greater awareness now, people are much more conscious of this issue.

"Doctors have always been aware of this matter, but it is now getting down to coaches, right down through the grades, and players themselves.

"I think rugby, from everything I've seen, is very aware of the dangers and have put protocols in place. But, of course, the big question is around these cases that are surfacing now, like those guys from the Taranaki team of the 1960s ... we have to look at what we do going forward to protect people playing contact sports."

ACC claims involving rugby concussions have increased in recent years. There has yet to be a claim for chronic conditions due to rugby, but ACC expects that will change in the future.

- NZ Herald

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