Kris Kristofferson says his memory loss was due to ticks, not dementia

For years, country singer Kris Kristofferson thought he was dealing with Alzheimer's. Turns out, he had Lyme disease. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Essential Broadcast Media)

For years, doctors were telling Kris Kristofferson he was grappling with Alzheimer’s disease as his memory quickly deteriorated. Turns out, he had Lyme disease – a discovery that has helped the 80-year-old country singer take back his health.

In a candid interview with Rolling Stone Country, Kristofferson conceded that his memory had slipped so much, he’d often forget what he was doing in the moment.

He even wrote about it: “I see an empty chair/Someone was sitting there…I’ve got a feeling it was me/And I see a glass of wine/I’m pretty sure it’s mine.”

He forgot about that song too, according to the magazine.

READ MORE: What you need to know about ticks and Lyme disease

Kristofferson dealt with lingering head injuries from playing contact sports, such as boxing, football and rugby in his teenage years. At his age and with his health history, doctors guessed dementia was setting in.

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But this year, a test for Lyme disease came back positive. Kristofferson’s wife, Lisa, says he could have picked up a tick while shooting a movie in a Vermont forest for six weeks.

“He was taking all these medications for things he doesn’t have, and they all have side effects,” she told the magazine. The medications to treat his alleged Alzheimer’s and depression didn’t help.

He traded them in for three weeks of Lyme disease treatment. That’s when Lisa saw a change in his mood.

“All of a sudden he was back…some days he’s perfectly normal and it’s easy to forget that he is even battling anything,” she said.

Lyme disease and ticks

Lyme disease is a bacteria that’s transmitted through the bites of infected deer tickets, which can be about the size of a poppy seed. Female ticks can grow up to 100 times their original size after feeding on blood, experts say.

READ MORE: Climate change may be reason ticks are spreading across Canada

Unlike mosquitoes that can transfer West Nile to humans with a single bite, the tick has to be attached to the body for at least 24 to 36 hours.

How to protect yourself against ticks:

  • Wear light-coloured clothing. It makes ticks easier to see and remove before they can attach to feed.
  • Wear long pants and a long sleeved shirt, closed footwear and tuck your pants into your socks.
  • Use a tick repellent that has “DEET.”  Apply it to your skin and outer clothing.
  • Examine yourself thoroughly for ticks after a day out and use a mirror to check the back of your body.

How to safely remove a tick:

If you do find a tick, it’s important to remove it as soon as possible. If it’s removed soon enough, treatment may not even be necessary.

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  • Try not to squash it.
  • Do not apply matches, cigarettes, or petroleum jellies to the tick as these may cause an infected tick to release the bacteria into the wound.

Symptoms to watch out for:

If you have been infected by the potent bacteria ticks can carry, you could show the following symptoms within three to as long as thirty days:

  • A rash at the site of the bite
  • Headaches
  • Fevers
  • Muscle aches
  • Chills

These symptoms appear to be the onset of Lyme disease.

If it’s left untreated, it could move onto the second stage of the disease. The tick’s victim is left with multiple skin rashes, arthritis, heart palpitations, and central and peripheral nervous system disorders.

A third is recurring arthritis and neurological problems, according to Health Canada.

You can find more information on the multitude of Lyme disease symptoms on the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation website.

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