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This May be The Most Overlooked Cause of Dementia

If your memory started to disappear with the passing years, you’d probably think you were developing Alzheimer’s disease. And that’s what Kris Kristofferson, the singer and songwriter, thought when his mental abilities started to fade in his late 70s.

But after years of being told by doctors that Alzheimer’s – or some other form of dementia – was destroying his brain, the 80-year-old Kristofferson learned that this wasn’t the problem at all.

Kristofferson had Lyme disease, not Alzheimer’s. After hearing the news, he and his wife believe he got the disease from a tick bite while he was filming a movie that required him to be in a wooded area on location in Vermont for over a month.1

“He was taking all these medications for things he doesn’t have, and they all have side effects,” his wife, Lisa Krisofferson recently told Rolling Stone Country.But now that he’s being treated for Lyme, she reports: “All of a sudden, he’s back.”

When the Problem is Not Alzheimer’s

People often forget that memory problems are not always caused by Alzheimer’s disease or other hard-to-treat forms of dementia. Adverse side-effects from a variety of medications can affect the brain. For some people – those who have celiac disease (an autoimmune reaction to gluten) – eating gluten-filled foods like bread, cookies and cake can lead to memory loss.

It’s likely that Lyme disease is the culprit in a great many dementia cases. The tick-borne disease is a growing problem that can cause devastating damage to the brain and nervous system. But not enough people are aware of the danger.

Beware of the Lyme Epidemic

The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) estimates that every year about 300,000 people contract Lyme Disease. Some experts say this is a vast underestimate and that the true total may be three million Americans a year.

I hope that high estimate is wrong. Given that Lyme can debilitate a person for life, it won’t be long before 20 or 30 percent of the country is chronically ill from this terrible disease.

Unfortunately, the ticks that spread Lyme are becoming more prevalent and are now found in just about every corner of the country.

Researchers at Tulane and Louisiana State University point out that about one of every six Lyme victims ends up with memory and nerve difficulties, because the disease infects the brain and nervous system.2

The symptoms can include:3

  • Loss of short term memory.
  • Difficulty following a conversation.
  • Inability to recall words or names.
  • A slowdown in thinking ability.
  • Brain fog.

Lyme is caused by a tiny, worm-like spiral bacterium called a spirochete (Borrelia burgdorferi). An inflammatory reaction to the bacterium is at the root of many of these cognitive issues. Lab tests show that as the Lyme spreads through the body from a tick bite, it also leads to nerve pain, muscle weakness and numbness.

The Tulane and Louisiana U. researchers discovered that the inflammation can continue even after the disease seems to be vanquished by antibiotics.

“Our results suggest that ongoing cytokine (immune system) activation in the nervous system can contribute to the persistent symptoms of fatigue, pain, and cognitive dysfunction that patients sometimes experience despite having been treated for Lyme disease,” warns researcher Mario T. Philipp.

Avoiding Lyme or getting it treated quickly are your best bets for dealing with these aches, pains and brain troubles. Stay out of tick-infested areas. Pull ticks off quickly if you find them on your skin. If you’re bitten, it’s essential to get treatment right away. The disease is most vulnerable in its early stages.

And the symptoms are easy to miss. The most common symptom is a circular red rash around the bite, which may occur within three to 30 days – but often doesn’t. And it’s generally not itchy or painful so people ignore it. I would certainly not wait 30 days to take action, because the window of opportunity for early treatment would already be gone.

This is only my opinion – but I would wait no more than five days after a tick bite to see the rash. And I’d only wait that long to “prove” to skeptical doctors that I’ve been exposed to Lyme. If no rash appeared in five days I would go to the doctor anyway and ask for a course of antibiotics.

And I NEVER take antibiotics. Haven’t had any in forty years. So you can interpret that as an indication of how seriously I take Lyme disease.

Given Kris Kristofferson’s experience, if you’re suffering from memory loss – or if you suffer chronic pain or fatigue, or other mystery symptoms – I suggest asking your doctor to consider Lyme disease as a possibility. And I regret to tell you, diagnosis is very difficult. There are no tests that are completely accurate for diagnosing Lyme disease. But that’s a whole other story. . .


  1. http://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/kris-kristofferson-an-outlaw-at-80-20160606
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25892509
  3. http://www.columbia-lyme.org/patients/ld_lyme_symptoms.html