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'Incredibly tough': Former All Black opens up on life with dementia

Former All Black Carl Hayman has spoken publicly for the first time since revealing last year he is living with early onset dementia. Speaking on TVNZ's Se

Former All Black Carl Hayman has spoken publicly for the first time since revealing last year he is living with early onset dementia.

Speaking on TVNZ's Seven Sharp as part of a dementia awareness event 'A Light in the Darkness', Hayman spoke about his life with the brain condition.

The 42-year-old father of four, who played 46 tests for the All Blacks between 2001 and 2007, says he was prepared to live with a sore knee or sore back for the rest of his days after rugby, but to have a medical specialist tell him he had dementia is something he never thought he would need to deal with.

"I've got various symptoms from changes in mood, to forgetfulness to constant headaches. It was pretty much zapping the life out of me really," Hayman said.

"It's been incredibly tough, but it's a matter of accepting that my brain energy is half full compared to other people, so I need to be careful about what I use that energy on. I need to plan my day, not take too much on and have little achievable goals for the day.

"Having that understanding and the tools to help deal with things, has really given me hope to move forward, in terms of having a productive future."

Hayman revealed last year that he was diagnosed with early-onset dementia and probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Once considered the best tighthead prop and highest-paid player in rugby, Hayman told Dylan Cleaver's The Bounce of his diagnosis and the emotional roller-coaster ride he's been on since retiring from rugby in 2015.

"I spent several years thinking I was going crazy. At one stage that's genuinely what I thought. It was the constant headaches and all these things going on that I couldn't understand," Hayman said.

Carl Hayman in 2001. Photo / Photosport

Carl Hayman in 2001. Photo / Photosport

That state of mind led Hayman down a road of alcohol abuse, suicidal thoughts and erratic behaviour; the latter leading to a suspended prison sentence in France after he admitted to charges of domestic violence.

In December 2020, two former All Blacks, Hayman and Geoff Old, told the Herald they had been in contact with British-based lawyers about their post-playing medical conditions.

Hayman initially declined offers to be tested to ascertain any damage to his brain over the course of his playing career. However, he relented after thinking of how his story could help fellow and future players.

Dementia Auckland CEO Martin Bremner said he is incredibly grateful for the courage and sincerity displayed by Hayman.

"Our goal is to bring the same level of awareness and acceptance to dementia that John Kirwan has done for mental health in recent years, and Carl has taken a massive first step in helping us achieve that.

"We couldn't be more appreciative of the incredibly selfless and courageous way Carl has acted, and we know that what he has done will have an extremely positive impact on people living with dementia in our communities."

Bremner says Dementia is like a lockdown that never ends for those who live with it.

"That's why we wanted to be that 'light in the darkness' to show and send a message of hope to them all."

Dementia is now the third largest cause of death in New Zealand and by 2050 it is anticipated that one in four New Zealanders will die with the dementia condition.

Hayman was on hand at Auckland's Bayswater Marina last night to flick the switch on the powerful spotlight that shone a one metre diameter vertical shaft of teal light 1000 feet into New Zealand's longest, darkest night sky on the winter solstice.

"'A Light in the Darkness' is a powerful visual initiative that we are delighted to be involved in to grow the engagement and understanding of how dementia impacts – and will impact - so many New Zealanders," said Bremner.

"Funding for Dementia support services in New Zealand is at a critical level and we don't want to be in a situation of having to cut back on the support we offer those in need. So if anyone is able to assist please visit our Dementia Auckland website"

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