Three years ago, famed singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson was diagnosed with incurable late-stage Alzheimer’s dementia. His family was devastated. Over the next few years, they saw his condition deteriorate, to the point that although he remembered the lyrics to his songs and still performed occasionally, it was obvious to fans that he was no longer the man they remembered.
You may remember Kristofferson as the writer and singer who gave the world Me and Bobby McGee, Loving Her Was Easier, Why Me Lord, Sunday Morning Coming Down, Once More With Feeling, and Help Me Make it Through the Night. He also starred many movies, from Pat Garret and Billy the Kid, to Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, to A Star is Born and the Blade trilogy.
Early this year, Kristofferson’s wife, Lisa, took him to a new doctor who decided to test him for Lyme Disease. The test came back positive. Lisa says she had wondered about the Alzheimer’s diagnosis, explaining:
[Kris had] been complaining about having memory loss to his doctors for about 12 years and my understanding of Alzheimer’s is that you’re not even aware you have memory loss. That was a big clue to me that maybe it was not really Alzheimer’s. He would say “My memory’s shot; my memory’s gone.” Also, Alzheimer’s patients often fight things and don’t want to do certain things and Kris has always been a very compliant patient. That was another clue to me.
Lisa says Kris had been diagnosed twelve years ago with fibromyalgia because of severe muscle spasms. She believes he may have contracted Lyme while shooting a movie in Vermont. She says there was “tremendous improvement’ as soon as they discontinued the Alzheimer’s drugs and began the treatment for Lyme disease. Within three weeks, there was dramatic improvement:
He still has spatial awareness issues and short-term memory loss. He sometimes even forgets he has Lyme! So, he really lives in the present and he feels good. His physical health is incredibly good. All his symptoms of fibromyalgia, sleep apnea and twitching are now gone with the Lyme treatment…It’s not like he’s immortal at eighty, but there’s not that big black void ahead of us anymore. And that’s the deal now, Kris is totally present and sometimes we forget he’s battling anything.
There is some speculation that the Alzheimer’s drugs prescribed for Kristofferson may have actually worsened his dementia symptoms. Two neurologists treated him with what has become the standard treatment for Alzheimer’s, Namenda (manufactured by Novartis) and Exelon (by Forest Pharmaceuticals, Inc.) These drugs, along with a third, Aricept (Eisai Pharmaceuticals), are now considered by many in the medical community as ineffective and capable of inducing adverse effects. Known side effects of these drugs include somnolence, insomnia,fatigue, appetite suppression, dizziness, depression, confusion, emotional lability and fainting.
Kris Kristofferson’s story is not typical, because it has a happy ending. But it does raise the question, how many of the half million cases of Alzheimer’s diagnosed every year may actually be a presentation of symptoms caused by other illnesses, or made much worse by the medications prescribed to treat them?