Many people deal with at least some degree of memory loss as they age. So when singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson, who turned 80 on June 22, began having trouble remembering things, he and his doctors chalked it up to the relentless march of time along with the effects of head injuries he received as a youthful athlete.
In November 2013, The Daily Mail reported that the then-77-year old Kristofferson was able to remember his own songs but not much else, and that other areas of his life were being adversely affected by dementia.
“I wish my memory weren’t so bad. They tell me it’s from all the football and boxing and the concussions that I got. A couple of years ago my memory just started going. I can remember my songs so I can perform, but other than that…”
Around the time that Kristofferson was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2014, doctors told the man who wrote “Me and Bobby McGee” that his memory deficit was indicative of the onset of Alzheimer’s disease or could be a form of dementia known as pugilistica. Now we know that Kris Kristofferson has Lyme disease.
On June 6, Rolling Stone magazine revealed that recent test results prove Kristofferson’s so-called ‘dementia’ was in fact caused by Lyme disease. Kristofferson’s wife, Lisa, told Rolling Stone that her husband had been taking prescription drugs to treat Alzheimer’s and depression for a number of years but stopped once Lyme was correctly diagnosed. She said that Kris “suddenly came back” after three weeks of treatment for Lyme disease.
“There are still bad days, but some days he’s perfectly normal and it’s easy to forget that he is even battling anything.”
When Kris Kristofferson presented symptoms of memory loss in his late 70s, it was easy for physicians to believe that he was suffering some sort of dementia. For one thing, Kristofferson has homes in Hawaii and California, where deer ticks are uncommon. Secondly, Kris Kristofferson was a Golden Gloves boxer and also has a history of playing contact sports such as college football.
Lisa Kristofferson stated that she believes her husband was infected by a deer tick whilst filming the 2006 movie Disappearances on location in Vermont. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains that 96 percent of Lyme disease cases reported in 2014 originated from tick bites in Vermont and 13 other northeast and upper Midwest states. The CDC notes that although Lyme disease affects 30,000 people annually and is the fifth most common Nationally Notable disease, it does not occur nationwide.
In the United States, Lyme is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi and Borrelia mayonii bacteria that is transmitted to humans and other mammals by the bite of the black-legged deer tick. The tick is most commonly hosted by deer, although squirrels, raccoons and opossums may carry the disease vector, too.
Mayo Clinic describes the first sign of early onset Lyme as a bulls-eye shaped rash at the bite site. Called erythema migrans, the rash generally appears three to 30 days after an infected tick bite. The rash, which is neither painful nor itchy, may spread to other parts of the body. Additional early signs of Lyme disease include fever, chills, body aches, joint and muscle pain, swollen lymph nodes, and other flu-like symptoms. Mayo Clinic notes that not all persons infected with Lyme develop the rash, and that the disease can be difficult to diagnose.
Columbia University Medical Center states that a number of diagnostic tests may be used to determine whether or not a patient is infected with Lyme disease, and that it is not uncommon for an infected person to test negative even though they have the disease. When a patient does test positive for Lyme, early intervention with strong antibiotics may prevent the disease from becoming chronic and unmanageable.
Kristofferson looked back on his long musical career at his personal website.
“I always try to be as honest as I can in the songwriting, otherwise there’s no point in doing it. I might as well be doing an advertising job or something. And what I’m finding, to my pleasant surprise at this age, is that I’m more inclined to laughter than tears. I hope I’ll feel this creative and this grateful until they throw dirt over me.”
Of the future, Kris Kristofferson told Rolling Stone the following.
“I really have no anxiety about controlling my own life. Somehow I just slipped into it and it’s worked. It’s not up to me – or you. I feel very lucky that my life has lasted so long, because I’ve done so many things that could have knocked me out of it. But somehow I just always have the feeling that He knows what He’s doing. It’s been good so far, and it’ll probably continue to be.”
[Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP Images]