Former England rugby union star Michael Lipman reveals terrifying impact of dementia precocious
Michael Lipman is joined onscreen by his wife Frankie as he is asked to reflect on the past 12 months.
What follows is as painful to hear for her as it is to articulate for the former English flanker.
“My symptoms got worse. I am constantly in a place of worry for myself and my family, ” the 41-year-old told Sportsmail on Zoom from his home in Australia, where he lives with Frankie and their children – Summer, 10 and three. Joey.
Former England rugby star Michael Lipman wants to help other struggling former pros
“I fear for their safety. If a member of my family has been affected because of me, it is the worst nightmare you can experience. I have good days but there are also very bad days when I scare myself because of my cognitive decline.
“It’s the everyday things that worry my family, like leaving the gas on and not realizing it.
“I had two accidents getting out of my driveway. I once hit a telegraph pole. Once I hit a tree on the other side of the road, without concentrating. It was ridiculous.
Lipman talks about his decline because it has been a year since he first announced he had dementia precocious and probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
It’s been a year since the 41-year-old first announced he was suffering from dementia premature
Last December, Lipman, his ex-England teammate Steve Thompson and former Welsh international Alix Popham became the first three of what is now more than 150 players with brain damage to join a lawsuit for the failure of their sport to protect them from the risks caused. by concussions.
The news that they were suing World Rugby, RFU and Welsh Rugby Union for negligence was called a watershed moment. For all World Rugby platitudes since then, “nothing has changed” as far as Lipman can see. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for his own deteriorating condition.
“It’s the little things that scare you the most,” says Frankie. “I have to be careful because none of this sounds good to Michael. But his behavior sometimes worries me. It gets to the point where you wonder if it should stop.
Lipman intervenes: “It will be soon.”
Lipman is one of more than 150 players with brain damage to join lawsuit against World Rugby
In addition to forgetfulness and trouble concentrating, Lipman suffers from insomnia and mood swings. He also struggles with his speech, which is part of why this is the only interview he has given in a year. There are other reasons.
“There is a lot of shame that comes with a brain trauma,” he says. “Things that are really hard to talk about. No one knows the symptoms I experience on a daily basis. This information was not given to anyone.
Notably because there are shamefully few people who have really shown their interest.
“There has been no contact with World Rugby,” reveals Lipman, who believes he suffered more than 30 concussions in an 11-year professional career, which culminated in Bath (right) and has saw winning 10 caps for his country between 2004 and 2008.
“I have not been contacted by any member of the rugby staff other than my old school coach Anthony Boyd and Mark Bakewell my forwards coach in Bath. It saddens me a lot. You spend so much time and energy with people and you think they’re friends, but ultimately they’re not.
He now lives in Australia with Frankie and their children: Summer, 10, and Joey, 3.
Lipman needed friends more than ever last year. In September, following a series of “manic episodes”, he enrolled in a mental health clinic.
“There are days when I can’t get out of bed,” he says. “I was in a dark place a few months ago, so I went to a clinic for two weeks to get psychiatric help. I am always extremely irritable, impatient and I get angry very quickly at the slightest thing. However, I was able to learn strategies to better deal with certain triggers.
Lipman wants to help other patients and protect the next generation of gamers. He runs a support group for people with probable CTE called “Concussion Connect,” while he and his wife work on a project to raise funds for more in-depth brain injury research.
Lipman, who runs a “paint and sip” – art with wine class – franchise with Frankie, has also enrolled in two college courses in dementia and traumatic brain injury, which will begin next year.
“I want as much knowledge as possible about what’s happening to me,” he says. “I can’t control the outcome, but the more understanding I have, the better I can push for positive change. “
Lipman believes he has suffered over 30 concussions in 11 years of professional career
Since Lipman and others launched their ongoing lawsuit last year, World Rugby has made a lot of noise but has taken few meaningful action.
The governing body has advised clubs to limit full contact training to 15 minutes per week. However, they did not make it mandatory.
“It doesn’t matter,” Lipman says. “A coach is going to train as he wishes and if it is contact during training, nothing says he cannot do it. It has to be mandatory.
The RFU, meanwhile, announced an action plan in July, including the use of specialist Premiership mouthguards to collect data on head impacts and the establishment of a brain health clinic. advanced for retired players.
World Rugby has also commissioned studies examining the effects of a reduced number of substitutions and a lower tackle height. But they undermined their own work last month when they claimed that concussion is just one of 12 “modifiable risk factors” – along with alcohol and smoking – that can lead to dementia.
The former England flanker won 10 caps for his country between 2004 and 2008
“My clinician, Dr. Rowena Mobbs, called their response ‘medical gas lighting’ and I echo her opinion,” says Lipman.
Frankie adds: “For World Rugby to say that, to lessen the effect of repetitive head injuries, is very disappointing. They should sit in groups like Michael Goes, immerse themselves in what’s really going on and what these real life symptoms are, but no one has reached out.
Given this frustration, Lipman’s response to one final question is sad but not surprising. Would he ever want his children to play rugby?
“There would have to be a significant change for us to let our children play,” he says.
Coming from a former England international, it’s a statement that should sound the alarm for rugby decision-makers.