5/22/17: CAUTIONARY MEDICAL TALE: Kris Kristofferson’s Alzheimer’s Disease Misdiagnosis: The Musician/Songwriter/Singer/Actor Has Lyme Disease

I may be among the last of his fans to know, but until I read a recent review of Kris Kristofferson’s concert at Washington’s Warner Theatre, I didn’t know that the hugely talented musician/songwriter/singer/actor, long reported to be coping with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, actually has Lyme disease.

Unbeknownst to me until now, Kristofferson’s Alzheimer’s misdiagnosis—made by at least two neurologists—was debunked last June by an “integrative” physician who finally “connected all of the dots” of Kristofferson’s debilitating symptoms, which included severe muscle spasms, knee-joint pain, memory loss, cardiac arrhythmias, and much more related to his autonomic nervous system.

Kristofferson’s story of medical failure rivals any that I have encountered while advocating for my parents’ and other loved ones’ care or any that I have heard, but its occurrence is why I wrote “Our Parents in Crisis: Confronting Medical Errors, Ageist Doctors, and Other Healthcare Failings.” I dedicate a lengthy chapter in my book to misdiagnoses; why they commonly occur (cognitive errors/biases by physicians); and how you, a logical, informed, and perceptive advocate, can expose them. Kristofferson is fortunate to have a wife, Lisa Meyers, who is such a person. She witnessed him “slowly slipping away” and wouldn’t let him go without a fight. Bravo!

Over the course of about 12 years, Kristofferson, a Texas native, college football and rugby player, Rhodes scholar, and military officer who has always strummed his own guitar, was falsely diagnosed with fibromyalgia, sleep apnea, and Alzheimer’s disease; treated for all of these conditions, as well as for depression; and had a pacemaker implanted. Meyers now believes Kristofferson was infected with Lyme during a six-week shoot in the woods of rural Vermont for the movie, “Disappearances” (2006).

I cringe to think of the number of specialists Kristofferson consulted who either could not or would not stand back and see the big picture of his health status. I wonder how many of them conveniently wrote off his symptoms as “age-related.” The composer of the Joplin classic, “Me and Bobby McGee,” and that soaring lyric, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” will be 81 next month. 

According to Meyers, one of her husband’s doctors actually told her, after the Lyme disease diagnosis, that Kristofferson couldn’t have the tick-borne disease because he had never been in New Hampshire! Since Lyme disease is named after Old Lyme, Conn., where the first diagnosis of the disease occurred in 1975, this alleged healthcare provider was really off-base. (I remember the breakthrough well.)

It’s shocking to think that a medically trained professional doesn’t know where Lyme disease is endemic. While it’s virtually a given that Lyme disease, as a diagnosis, doesn’t occur to physicians—certainly outside of an academic setting—unless a patient reports a tick bite, it also should be a given that all physicians know its geographic scope: It’s everywhere, but predominantly in five regions, including New England and the Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic, East-North Central, and West-North Central regions. (In the first chapter of “Our Parents in Crisis,” I relate my then-78-year-old mother’s near-death experience with ehrlichiosis, another tick-borne disease. She survived only because I questioned physicians’ (mis)diagnoses, which didn’t adequately account for her symptoms.)

After learning of Kristofferson’s illness, I Googled him and found an interview with his wife that details his cautionary medical tale of misdiagnosis. I encourage you to read it: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/a-slow-slipping-away-kris-kristoffersons-long_us_577c047be4b00a3ae4ce6609  It will increase your awareness. I now know that there is such a professional entity as a “Lyme-literate” physician. I can certainly tell you that no one within 200 miles of where my mother contracted ehrlichiosis 15 years ago had any awareness or expertise in that disease. Duke Medical Center saved her.

The bottom line is and will always be that doctors are fallible. Trust your own medical judgment, and if you don’t have one, find an incisive advocate who does. With proper Lyme-disease treatment, the brilliant Kris Kristofferson is slowly improving, but the reality is his treatment is 12 years too late.

ADDITION 5/23/17: I should note that doxycycline, which is a broad-spectrum tetracycline antibiotic, cured my mother and is used to treat Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases. Mom received doxycycline intravenously for two weeks. I have taken doxycycline as a preventative measure after receiving a tick bite that became inflamed.

***

IT IS NOW TICK SEASON: The ticks that carry Lyme, ehrlichiosis, and other diseases feed and reproduce on “host” animals, primarily deer. Hosts harbor the disease-causing parasites that ticks, which are known as “vectors,” transmit from one animal to another (human). If you walk and/or live anywhere near woods, check yourself, as well as your outdoors companion animals, regularly for ticks. I have found so many ticks on my dog—they tend to attach to his paws—that I have given up counting them. One short walk can result in three tick attachments. So far, I’ve found only one on me. Last spring/summer on the Outer Banks of North Carolina was brutal for ticks; this spring/summer is shaping up to be the same. They love our increasingly warm winters. Take care. 

Ann, 5/22/17

Kristofferson_-_78

Kris Kristofferson in 1978. (Courtesy of Wikipedia.)

 

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