For years, songwriter and actor Kris Kristofferson was told he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or some other type of dementia. His memory was getting progressively worse.

But Kristofferson, 79, has revealed that he was misdiagnosed — he actually has Lyme disease, according to a June 6 story in Rolling Stone. A positive test result confirmed the hunch earlier this year, the magazine said.

“He was taking all these medications for things he doesn’t have, and they all have side effects,” his wife, Lisa, told Rolling Stone. After three weeks of Lyme treatment, there are still some down days, but on other days he seems normal, she said. “All of a sudden he was back.”

Lasting Effects Possible

Lyme disease is caused by an infected blacklegged tick, also known as a deer tick. If left untreated, it can eventually cause a host of debilitating symptoms, including severe headaches, one or more rashes, stiff neck, severe joint pain and swelling, heart palpitations, facial paralysis, dizziness, nerve pain and memory loss, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Other cognitive problems that can occur after months or even years include, according to the Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases Research Center of Columbia University Medical Center:

  • problems remembering names or words
  • slowed thinking
  • “brain fog”
  • difficulty following conversations.

“My brain is so destroyed. To me it’s amazing I can still get up and go to the show,” Kristofferson told the Las Vegas Review-Journal last fall. “But I can remember all the songs.”

The tiny arachnids are found in the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, north-central and Pacific Coast areas of the United States, the CDC says.

The disease may reveal itself within 30 days in a characteristic “bull’s-eye” rash, but some people never get a rash. And since most bites come from the immature form of the tick, which is about the size of a poppy seed, the incursion can easily go unnoticed.

About 300,000 people are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year, according to the CDC, and the government has recognized it as a “major health threat.”

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