Rugby memories help tackle dementia

Players encouraged to remember greatest moments for ‘Rugby Memories’ campaign

The late Ireland rugby international Moss Keane used to quip that the older he got, the better he was. The sentiment sat well on Tuesday in the old committee room at the RDS, where memorabilia from the game's glory years was on show.

There were black-and-white photographs of Triple Crown-winning sides of the 1980s; old heavy cotton jerseys of the All Blacks, Lions and even the “Pelicans”; and a scrapbook of Old Wesley history.

The older the memories get, the better they seem.

This fact is not lost on the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, which has developed a “Rugby Memories” campaign based on the well-established concept that treasured recollections can help treat dementia.

"As a former player we all have good and bad memories," said former Irish international Philip Orr, who spoke on the theme and personally remembers two Triple Crowns. "As we get older, as we grow and as time goes by we like to forget the bad memories and try to remember the good ones."

Rugby Memories was organised with the help of the Leinster team and the society hopes it will be embraced by clubs around the country, encouraging the act of looking back as a means to keep people in the present as much as the past.

"Memories of being involved and going to matches – we all remember those great moments," said the society's chief executive, Colette Kelleher. "Supplying people with memories and artefacts from these times can trigger better memories and it can give them a greater sense of connection with the people around them."

Current Leinster players Seán Cronin, Colm O'Shea and Aaron Dundon recalled not-so-distant first caps for club and country and wearing orange peel mouthguards as youngsters.

John Meldrum (77), who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's eight years ago, can pick himself out of one of the photographs – an Old Wesley team at Lansdowne Road in 1959. "I was a scrumhalf and I used to fall with the pass in those days. We had some illusion that you took this diving pass and flicked your heels up so they [the opposition] couldn't get you."

His wife, Heather, says the scrapbook of his days on the hallowed turf of the club comes out to help him with conversations when people visit. “[It’s] to remind him of the man he was, capable of doing so much. I think that’s so important,” she said.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times

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