Lyme is a bacterial disease carried by ticks, transmitted to people through infected blood.
With the arrival of summer, we always see more in the news about Lyme. Recently, I have heard a lot of speculation about whether Lyme — or tick bites — might be one of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease.
This is an unwarranted concern that I think was caused in part by recent stories about celebrity Kris Kristofferson being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Recently, it was announced that Kristofferson does not have Alzheimer’s, but actually has Lyme, which went misdiagnosed for many years! But this news linked Lyme and Alzheimer’s in the popular media, leading to fear and unjustified concern.
Most of the symptoms of Lyme have little resemblance to the symptoms of any kind of dementia, including Alzheimer’s. One symptom of Lyme infection is a rash, appearing at the site of the tick bite. It is often ignored because it is not itchy or painful. People may also experience fever and chills, fatigue, muscle or joint pain and headaches, which can be misdiagnosed as flu.
The misdiagnosis of Lyme can lead to neglect and lack of treatment until more frightening symptoms appear. These can include loss of short-term memory, difficulty in finding common words and inability to concentrate, causing Lyme to be confused with dementia. This was the case with Kristofferson. But, unlike dementia, which is irreversible, Lyme is treatable.
A recent study at the University of Mississauga in Canada has confirmed that there is no link between Lyme and Alzheimer’s. This is borne out statistically by the fact that the 13 states in the U.S. with the highest incidence of Lyme disease actually report the lowest number of deaths due to Alzheimer’s.
Last month, the American Association of Retired Persons published a survey that indicates Alzheimer’s is our most feared disease among seniors.
We need to remind ourselves that 90% of us over the age of 65 will not get Alzheimer’s, and not give ourselves over to fear and panic every time we read new speculation about what causes Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
One of these frightening speculations we can put to bed now is that Lyme disease causes Alzheimer’s. It does not.
Debbie Selsavage is a certified independent trainer in the Positive Approach to Care, a certified dementia practitioner and president of the Board of Directors of the Alzheimer’s Family Organization. Her company, Coping with Dementia LLC, is dedicated to making life better for individuals and their caregivers who are living with dementia. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.