BRADFORD Salem head coach Neil Spence has openly discussed his battle with early on-set dementia, after years of playing rugby union, professionally and locally, took its toll.

Spence, who is only 44, talked about how it has changed his personality, his daily life as a teacher and coach, and what steps will hopefully be taken to make the sport a safer place in the future.

Speaking to the T&A, he said: "I'm at exactly the same stage as (England World Cup winner in 2003) Steve Thompson.

"I've been diagnosed with early on-set dementia from brain scans and neurological assessments I've had, and I have clinical evidence of CTE (a progressive degenerative disease of the brain).

"It's a daily struggle, just doing chores takes a lot longer than normal, things I used to be able to do in my sleep.

"Lessons at school and sessions for rugby take more planning.

"The worry is that it gets worse and I can't do those jobs any more.

"There's no definitive prognosis as such, it could be a rapid decline over the next 10 years, or it could be a slow one where I plateau.

"People have said it's changed my personality, where I used to be very outgoing, now I'm often anxious, confused and depressed."

Spence, who played professionally for Leicester, Gloucester and Rotherham, as well as locally for Bradford & Bingley, Ilkley and Otley, said: "I'm part of that first generation of professional rugby players, starting when I was 19 or 20, and coming out of the other side.

"Back then, there were no real guidelines to say we had to go off and stop playing, there weren't the concussion protocols or HIAs (head injury assessments) like there are now."

He added: "It's important to come out and talk about it, because there's contact all day, every day in rugby union.

"You've got maybe 40 players fighting for places in the starting line-up in club training sessions, so it's even competitive there."

Spence is one of a number of players, including Thompson, joining a lawsuit against the game and suing.

A pre-action letter of claim was delivered to World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and Welsh Rugby Union last week on behalf of nine players, including Spence, being represented by Rylands Law.

The hope is that urgent action will be taken, and those former players want to see 15 'commandments' introduced into the game.

Spence explained: "We're just looking at how we can change rugby for the better.

"I've got so much out of the sport, whether that be friendships or the chance to travel the world. I love it to bits.

"We don't want to rip up the sport and the rules, but we just want to have a closer look at welfare and player safety, in the hope that the next generation don't suffer in the same way we have.

"It's looking at things like limiting contact in training, which is every Tuesday and Thursday for amateurs and every day for professionals, to minimise head traumas and knocks for players.

"Maybe having windows in the season where you have contact training and others where you don't.

"We feel that there needs to be concussion spotters watching on at games, to assess if someone's suffering with a head knock, someone who is better educated on all that than a head coach.

"We'd like a HIA test to see where you are at cognitively at the beginning of each season, then if you do take a knock, see where you are after that.

"There needs to be better education on concussion and head injuries for players, coaches and officials, as well as better after-care.

"Hopefully, if we do get it right as a sport, there'll be no need for that after-care in the future."