The Power Of Talk With Alix Popham

Alix Popham, former Wales international rugby player and co-founder of the charity Head for Change, sits down with us to discuss the need for better awareness of brain health in sport and support for those battling a diagnosis. 









You were diagnosed with early onset dementia when you were just forty. What symptoms were you noticing? 

Early 2019 I started noticing different symptoms, I was struggling with taking in information from a book and finding it hard to respond to emails, those kinds of things.

I put a lot of it down to everyday stress, work, kids… The thing I noticed most was when there were multiple people speaking at a board meeting or a dinner party, I would struggle to understand what they were saying. All I could hear was noise. I had to concentrate really hard for that information to go in.

In September 2019, I went on a bike ride from my house, which I have done 100 times, and I got lost. I phoned Mel quite upset and the next day had an appointment with my GP and the testing started.


That must have been hard. How did you come to terms with your diagnosis? 

Just not knowing what was going on was the most difficult part. I was just putting these symptoms down to other things, maybe as part of denial, maybe a lack of understanding.

After the diagnosis, I was able to learn about the condition, so it was a bit easier to understand why I was struggling with certain things, but it was still difficult to come to terms with.


How was Head For Change brought about? 

We soon realised there wasn’t much support out there for forty odd year olds seeking help after their diagnosis.

Mel and I put the first steps in place, alongside Dr Judith Gates, whose husband played 293 times for Middlesbrough. He had been diagnosed with dementia and probable CTE, and Dr Sally Tucker, whose father had the same diagnosis.

There are three key areas for Head For Change: Care and Support, Education, and Research.


What challenges have you already done to raise money and awareness for the charity?

  • 2 x Zwift 24-hour challenges that were horrendous during COVID
  • A Cardiff to Edinburgh charity ride alongside Dai Mathias – this will now be an annual event
  • ‘Head for Twickenham’ 15 ex-player riders which we intend to grow for next year


And what challenges have you got coming up in 2023?  

  • The Long Course weekend down in Tenby in June, where I’ll compete the ironman distances.
  • The Half Ironman in Swansea, and the full ironman in Tenby.
  • In September, I will be cycling from London Welsh to Lyon to watch Wales Australia and am being accompanied by Geraint Thomas, Luke Rowe, Ian Gough, Shane Williams, Colin Charvis, and Anthony Copsey.
  • In October, I’m also a part of the rugby union team that will be swimming the channel as part of a relay vs a rugby league team.

To put the above into context, I could swim just to survive 18 months ago, so it’s going to be a big challenge.

It’s a different type of fitness to my rugby days, I’m probably three stone lighter than when I was playing rugby. These challenges keep me focused and moving forward and keeping that glass half full. 😉