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Kris Kristofferson’s “Dementia” Turned out to Be Something Completely Different…

Lyme disease is an increasingly common serious disease that’s caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. You can get Lyme through the bites of infected black-legged ticks. Lyme comes with uncomfortable symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, fevers, erythema migraines, and a skin rash specific to the disease. When untreated, Lyme disease can become chronic and spread to your joints, nervous system and heart.

The problem with Lyme is that it’s often misdiagnosed and left untreated. This is what happened to Kris Kristofferson, songwriter, and actor.

Kristofferson, 79, was suffering from a series of symptoms that doctors assumed stemmed from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Eventually, someone suggested him to get tested for Lyme. It turns out, he never had dementia or Alzheimer’s. He had Lyme disease. Thanks to the diagnosis, he was able to start treatment and is already on the mend.

What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is caused by infected black-legged or deer ticks. One of the most visible symptoms is a bull’s eye rash appearing within the first 30 days of the tick bite. Many people, however, don’t get a rash at all making them more confused about their symptoms. Symptoms can become debilitating.

Symptoms may include:

  • Severe headaches
  • Neck stiffness
  • Additional rashes on other parts of the body
  • Arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, often in the knees
  • Bell’s palsy
  • Muscle and joint pain that comes and goes
  • Heart palpitations or an irregular heartbeat (Lyme carditis)
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nerve pain
  • Shooting pains, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Issues with short-term memory
  • Fever

When Lyme becomes chronic, more and more cognitive issues may occur after several months or years, including:

  • Slowed thinking
  • Brain fog
  • Problems remembering names or words
  • Difficulty following conversations

Considering these cognitive symptoms, it’s not entirely surprising that doctors thought that Kristofferson had dementia. Symptoms can be similar and people get misdiagnosed quite frequently. Doctors are also busy and some patients may feel they pay little attention to persisting symptoms and brush it up with the most convenient answer.

Lyme Disease is a Serious Concern

Lyme disease is clearly a serious health concern and one we need to pay more attention to. About 300,000 people get diagnosed each year. It’s impossible to know how many people go misdiagnosed and undiagnosed while suffering from debilitating symptoms.

There has been strong disagreement in the medical community around Lyme disease, testing methods and how long the illness should last.

According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, the term chronic Lyme disease (CLD) has been used to describe people with different illnesses. They claim that in many cases people who claim to have CLD or the symptoms of it have no evidence of current or past Lyme infection.

Diagnosis of Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is usually diagnosed by using a blood test that checks your levels of antibodies to the disease-causing bacteria and also an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test. If Lyme is found an MRI, EKG and spinal tap may be required.

Chronic Lyme is less understood and more difficult to diagnose. If you believe you have Lyme disease, especially chronic Lyme, your best bet is to seek help from a Lyme specialist. Many non-specialists are not equipped to understand, diagnose and treat CLD and some don’t even believe in it.

How is Lyme Treated?

Lyme disease is usually treated with a course of antibiotics such as doxycycline or amoxicillin. In more serious cases, IV therapy is necessary.

Treatment of chronic Lyme disease is difficult. People with CLD often turn to Lyme specialists and alternative health practitioner and use natural and alternative methods of healing along with or instead of traditional methods.

How to Prevent Lyme Disease?

Of course, your best bet is to avoid being bitten by ticks. If you go to wooded areas, forests, high grass areas, places with leaf litter or in nature general, always use bug repellent on both exposed skin and clothes. Don’t forget to always check yourself, loved ones, and pets for ticks as soon as you are done with your nature-activity. If you are camping or hiking for a day or several days, or if you live close to a wooded area, check yourself carefully regularly every day several times a day. If you do find a tick, remove it carefully.


Pay attention to your symptoms and visit your doctor if you believe you’ve been infected. You have a good chance of recovery as long as you catch it early and the disease doesn’t become chronic. Be aware of your surroundings when out on hikes or even just a community BBQ. 

When it comes to protecting your pets as well, your vet can prescribe traditional preventative methods. You may also use lavender or geranium oil as a natural bug repellent.

How will you protect yourself from Lyme disease this year? Do you know anyone with Lyme disease or are you experiencing symptoms yourself? Share in the comments below. We would love to hear your experiences.

By Kat Gál

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