Is There a Connection Between Lyme Disease and Alzheimer’s?

Lyme Disease and Alzheimer’s

For over a decade Country Music Hall of Fame singer Kris Kristofferson suffered from memory loss, confusion, and other issues. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2013, he began taking 2 prescription drugs for dementia, but they weren’t helping, and he was slipping away quickly.

Then he saw Mark Filidei, D.O., at the Whitaker Wellness Clinic (Dr. Filidei also works at Amen Clinics as the Director of Integrative Medicine). After extensive testing, Dr. Filidei diagnosed the singer with Lyme disease and treated him with antibiotics and hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). According to media reports, after a few treatments, his symptoms improved and he told his wife, “I feel like I’m back.”

As the medical community learns more about Lyme disease, it is becoming clearer that its symptoms can mimic those seen in Alzheimer’s and other dementias. In rare cases, a history of Lyme disease has been linked to dementia in later life, according to a 2019 study in Frontiers in Neurology. And research is increasingly finding that Alzheimer’s is more common in those with certain types of bacterial infections (such as Lyme disease, gum disease, and syphilis), as well as viral and fungal infections. The findings of the Lyme-Alzheimer’s connection remain mixed, however, and more research is needed to fully understand the relationship.

As the medical community learns more about Lyme disease, it is becoming clearer that its symptoms can mimic those seen in Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Click To Tweet

THE BASICS OF LYME DISEASE AND THE BRAIN

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is caused when an individual is bitten by a deer tick—also known as a black-legged tick—that is infected with a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi.

An estimated 476,000 Americans are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year, according to the CDC, but experts suggest the number of people with the disease could be much higher.

On brain SPECT imaging scans, infections such as Lyme disease are associated with overall decreased blood flow in a scalloped pattern. Seeing this pattern on SPECT scans prompts a deeper investigation into the possible root causes. Seeing the abnormal brain activity in people with Lyme disease, it’s understandable that there can be issues related to emotional well-being, cognitive function, and behavior.

LYME DISEASE, MEMORY PROBLEMS, AND MENTAL HEALTH

Infectious illnesses, such as Lyme disease, are a major cause of psychiatric and cognitive problems that few medical professionals recognize. In a 2019 study involving nearly 1.1 million people, researchers found that infectious diseases in children and adolescents were linked to a significant increase in mental health problems and the use of psychotropic medications later in life. Lyme disease is associated with a variety of neurological and psychiatric symptoms and conditions, including:

  • Memory loss, cognitive impairment, and brain fog: The forgetfulness and cognitive issues some people with Lyme disease experience can be mistaken for the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. As shown above, there is some scientific evidence pointing to a link between a history of infection with Lyme disease and dementia.
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI): Head injuries and Lyme disease share many of the same symptoms. In a 2019 study, researchers wrote that “an alarming number of individuals” who suffer from post-concussive syndrome and do not respond to treatment test positive for Lyme disease.
  • Psychotic disorders: Hallucinations, paranoia, and delusions—typically associated with psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia—have been noted in people with Lyme disease. Areas in the U.S. with the highest rates of Lyme disease are the same as those with the largest incidence of schizophrenia. A 2017 trial found that the antibiotics used to treat Lyme disease improved schizophrenia symptoms when used as an adjunct treatment.
  • Mood disorders: Mood dysregulation is common among those with Lyme disease. A 2021 study in The American Journal of Psychiatry found that people with the infectious disease had a 42% greater risk of depression and bipolar disorder. Standard antidepressant treatments often do not work in this population. A study from Denmark that followed over 3.5 million people found that hospitalization for any infection raised the risk for subsequent mood disorders by 62%.
  • ADD/ADHD: Chronic Lyme disease has been associated with focus, concentration, and attention problems, which may be mistaken for ADD/ADHD, according to research on the illness.
  • Anxiety and panic attacks: Case Reports in Psychiatry detailed a fascinating case study involving a 37-year-old man who experienced severe anxiety and panic attacks. Standard treatment with an anti-anxiety medication for these issues didn’t help. Months later, however, after being diagnosed with Lyme disease and treated with antibiotics, his panic attacks subsided.
  • Anger problems: Irritability and a low tolerance for frustration are common in people with Lyme disease. Findings in a 2018 study in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment show that a smaller subset of individuals with Lyme, however, experience explosive anger and thoughts of violence, including homicide.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): Lyme disease is associated with the onset of symptoms related to OCD, such as excessive hand washing, repeated checking, and hoarding. In this study, which appeared in General Hospital Psychiatry, over 84% of those with Lyme disease met the clinical criteria for OCD.
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors: People with Lyme disease have twice the risk of attempting suicide, according to a 2021 study in The American Journal of Psychiatry. This research also points to a 75% increased rate of dying by suicide among those with the infectious disease.

SEEKING HELP FOR LYME DISEASE

When neuropsychiatric symptoms don’t respond to standard treatments, it is always a good idea to dig deeper. Brain SPECT imaging, testing for infectious diseases, and other assessments that are part of an integrative medicine approach can be helpful in identifying the root causes of symptoms. If Lyme disease is discovered, seek help from a Lyme-literate physician for optimal treatments to aid in recovery.

Lyme disease and other infectious diseases, along with the mental health symptoms associated with them, can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

9 Comments »

  1. Can you offer a plan of vitamins if one had Lyme years ago ?

    Comment by Lori doldo — May 23, 2022 @ 4:02 AM

  2. I was diagnosed with lymes and treated still problems with memory loss where do I go for a brain scan

    Comment by Hollis Hafford — May 23, 2022 @ 5:57 AM

  3. I have wrestled with Lyme disease for over 23 years since I was 28. Sadly, I was not correctly diagnosed until 8 years later after my body crashed with Epstein Barr Virus. It completely train wrecked my ENTIRE life in every way. I have experienced extreme cognitive issues which have directly contributed to my losing the ability to read and learn and be a singer/songwriter/musician that used to come second hand for me. My ADD issues have drastically increased and I’ve had major short term memory issues so extreme that I have to write everything down in my daytimer to even remember what I did the day before and what meds I took when. Unfortunately, by the time I was correctly diagnosed, I did horrific on antibiotics and malaria meds because my LLMD treated my condition much too aggressively because I have both MTHFR gene mutations that prevent my body from correctly detoxing. I understand the emotional pain and trauma of having very little family support besides my 80 year old mother who has had a front row seat to witness my suffering and been my caretaker for way too much of her time. It’s fascinating to me that family members and uneducated medical doctors can more easily believe it’s all in your head OVER the truth that you have Lyme disease in Mississippi. Most people with Lyme have to look outside the state to actually get any real help and by the time I was finally accurately diagnosed, the treatment available for chronic Lyme disease is never covered by Medicare. It causes all with Lyme disease MASSIVE medical bills and extreme debt although many end up on disability like me. I appreciate your even being willing to address Lyme disease since it is one of the most misunderstood diseases I’ve ever witnessed in my life. It is straight up daily suffering. When I FINALLY got correctly diagnosed, I had no idea what a nightmare diagnosis I had received. I’m now 50 with almost half of my life completely wasted that was completely preventable! I also have SEVERE insomnia that I never had before getting ill and take a FISTFUL of sleep meds to help me sleep each night which then causes a significant hangover the next day contributing to extreme fatigue and exhaustion on top of that caused by Lyme. I nightly require 10-12 hours of sleep a night to even function remotely at all the next day. I have read that integrative medicine has the ability to reverse all of my brain damage, but I have no idea who would foot the bill. Thankfully, my brother pays for me to see a therapist(since clearly this is a dream come true way of life for me that I have completely made up-LOL!) to deal with my PTSD from suffering physically for so long and having my entire life ripped out from under me. Ironically, my brother has been brainwashed to believe all this is all in my head although I had a VERY full happy life in Nashville before my body crashed. I am grateful that he also pays for me to see a psychiatrist who manages all my many sleep meds. After all, I couldn’t really actually have Lyme disease possibly, could I? It makes WAY more sense to believe that I have chosen this amazing way of life for myself!

    Comment by Anne — May 23, 2022 @ 6:41 AM

  4. What is the exact name of the test to check for Lymes Disease?? And can a neurologist order it?

    Comment by Debra Massey — May 23, 2022 @ 9:58 AM

  5. Thanks for this article! The experience Kris had, and getting the correct diagnosis (via a connection to Amen Clinics) and treatment. It was a huge relief to everyone who loves him, and a wake-up call about Lyme vs dementia. Thanks again!

    Comment by Lynn — May 23, 2022 @ 10:13 AM

  6. Hello Hollis, thank you for reaching out. Currently, Amen Clinics has 10 locations nationwide: https://amenclinics.com/locations/. For more information about SPECT scans and our services, please contact our Care Coordinators: https://amenclinics.com/schedule-visit/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — May 23, 2022 @ 12:35 PM

  7. Unfortunately people are being misdiagnosed because health clinicians and doctors are not trained very well and health care is unaffordable for someone like myself who can’t afford to go to te amen clinic or it’s affiliates . Keep sharing information maybe the powers that be will take notice. Greatly appreciated. Been listening to Dr Amen for many years

    Comment by Rosalyn Taltoan — May 23, 2022 @ 6:19 PM

  8. Does ME/CFS …can it cause the same brain fog and cognitive issues?

    Comment by Donna — May 23, 2022 @ 6:52 PM

  9. Please know that Medicare does cover treatment of Lyme disease and this includes testing (Western Blot), a Brain MRI, antibiotic infusions and oral etc. Just don't try to find a Lyme disease specialist (none of them take Medicare), find an Infectious Disease specialist who does. They treat Lyme disease as well as other illnesses. Still a hard road but at least one has professional help and support.
    All the best!

    Comment by Bea — July 2, 2022 @ 8:19 PM

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