In an exclusive interview with NBC's Today Show, country music superstar Alan Jackson revealed that he has been living Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a degenerative nerve condition.
Jackson told Today Show's Jenna Bush Hager from the Country Music Hall of Fame that he has been suffering from this degenerative nerve condition for years, and now it is progressively getting worse and more noticeable.
"I have this neuropathy and neurological disease. It's genetic that I inherited from my daddy. There's no cure for it, but it's been affecting me for years," Jackson explained.
Jackson Has Been Stumbling on Stage
Jackson, born on October 17, 1958, is aware that he has been stumbling around on stage and having issues with his balance. As he has been getting older and the disease has progressed, it has been impacting his performances.
"I'm having a little trouble balancing, even in front of the microphone, and so I just feel very uncomfortable," Jackson said.
Degenerative Nerve Disorder Can Affect Mobility
Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) is an inherited genetic condition according to the Mayo Clinic. It occurs when there are mutations in the genes that affect the nerves in your feet, legs, hands, and arms.
Symptoms of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease typically appear in adolescence or early adulthood but may also develop in midlife. Jackson said he was diagnosed with CMT ten years ago.
Mayo Clinic lists several symptoms; many affect a person's independence and ability to perform daily activities over time. These symptoms include:
- Awkward or higher than normal step (gait)
- Curled toes (hammertoes)
- Decreased ability to run
- Difficulty lifting a person's foot at the ankle (footdrop)
- Frequent tripping or falling
- High foot arches
- Loss of muscle bulk in legs and feet
- Weakness in legs, ankles, and feet
"It's not going to kill me. It's not deadly," Jackson explained.
Most Common Inherited Neuropathy
Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease is the most common inherited neuropathy and one of the most common inherited diseases in humans. Typically, the earliest symptoms of CMT result from muscle atrophy in the feet. People who suffer from CMT often have trouble flexing the foot or walking on the heel of the foot, causing a higher-than-normal step, which increases the risk of ankle injuries and tripping.
These symptoms are hard for most anyone, but they can end a career for a music performer. Often CMT will progress, causing weakness in the hands, causing difficulty with daily activities such as writing, fastening buttons, and turning doorknobs. For someone like Alan Jackson, the ability to play the guitar would be affected. In fact, some will start to have hearing loss that can lead to deafness.
The symptoms and the physical challenges with a person's body will often limit an individual's ability to perform daily activities, requiring them to need the help of in-home caregivers, or in some cases, long-term health care facilities.
Stretching and Exercise Part of Plan of Care
Health professionals and caregivers will help their patients develop an exercise program that is appropriate for their limitations. Care providers will help with stretching on a daily basis to help loosen muscles and improve flexibility.
Those with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease will also use items like adaptive handles, zipper pullers, and a long-handled grabber to help them remain as independent as possible. Braces, canes, and walkers will help support a person's mobility.
"There's no cure for it, but it's been affecting me for years. And it's getting more and more obvious," Jackson said.
Jackson - One of Country Music’s Biggest Names
Jackson is one of the top-selling country artists of all time. He has won two Grammy Awards, 16 CMA Awards, 17 ACM Awards, and nominee of multiple other awards, along with 66 chart records.
While he had several country hits starting in 1989, including "I'd Love You All Over Again," "Don't Rock the Jukebox," "Someday," "Dallas," and "Midnight in Montgomery," it wasn't until his first gold record "Chattahoochee" that he became a household name.
"Alan Jackson was huge in the 90s, and even people who usually don't like country music enjoyed Alan Jackson. Jackson was one of the prominent faces of the country music resurgence in the 90s. Hopefully, he will remain independent for a long time and still be able to perform despite the CMT, said Matt McCann. McCann, a leading specialist in long-term care planning, was a radio station manager and on-air talent before his career in long-term health care planning.
CMT and Long-Term Care
McCann says CMT is one of many health issues that can cause the need for long-term health care. People require long-term health care services and supports due to an illness, accident, or the impact of aging.
"Declining health and bodies happens to all of us; it does not discriminate. However, most of us do not have the financial resources of Alan Jackson and need to prepare for the costs and burdens that come with aging and changing health," McCann explained.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke says there is no cure for CMT, but supportive therapy can help. Jackson, who has been in the music scene for over 30 years, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in 2017. He told the Today Show that he is not yet ready to retire.
"I never wanted to do the big retirement tour, like people do, then take a year off and then come back. I think that's kinda cheesy. And I'm not saying I won't be able to tour. I'll try to do as much as I can," Jackson said.
We all face changes in our health and bodies as we get older and being prepared will help protect our families and finances. Not all of us have the financial resources that Alan Jackson has, but even if we did, an advance plan would protect assets and reduce the stress and anxiety when a need for long-term health care happens at some point in our lifetime.
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