Country music star Alan Jackson revealed this week that he has a degenerative nerve condition that’s affected his ability to perform.
“I have this neuropathy and neurological disease,” Jackson told the morning show. “It’s genetic that I inherited from my daddy … There’s no cure for it, but it’s been affecting me for years.”
Lately, the effects of his CMT have been getting worse, he said.
“It’s getting more and more obvious. And I know I’m stumbling around on stage. And now I’m having a little trouble balancing, even in front of the microphone, and so I just feel very uncomfortable.”
CMT is sometimes referred to as personal muscular atrophy or hereditary motor and sensory neuropathy, according to the Mayo Clinic. Healthline reports that it’s one of the most common inherited neurological disorders, affecting 1 out of every 2,500 people in the United States. It mostly impacts the peripheral nerves, starting in feet and legs, but can eventually spread to the hands and arms.
“It’s not going to kill me. It’s not deadly,” Jackson said. “But it’s related (to) muscular dystrophy and Parkinson’s disease.”
Symptoms of CMT include weakness, loss of muscle or decreased sensation in the feet, ankles and legs. That can make it harder to lift a foot at the ankle, and can make walking and running difficult and awkward. People with CTM often get high foot arches and curled toes, and may trip and fall more often.
As Jackson said, it’s an inherited condition. Gene mutations, passed down through generations, can damage either the nerves in the hands, feet, legs and arms themselves. They can also damage the protective sheath around the nerves, or the part of the nerve that sends signals to other nerves, according to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
CMT is usually diagnosed by a neurologist, who will often perform a blood test and/or several nerve studies, including electromyography (which measures the muscles’ response to nerves) or a nerve biopsy (which involves removing a small piece of a nerve and observing it under a microscope).
Other neuropathies — caused by diabetes, for instance — can make CMT worse. Certain drugs, including some chemotherapy drugs, can also worsen the condition.
There’s no cure for CMT. But physical and occupational therapy can help people manage pain and improve functioning. Orthopedic shoes or braces are sometimes needed, and in severe cases, surgery can help with
And Jackson was right that CMT isn’t fatal, although, of course, it can make life much more painful and difficult. People with CMT often worry about complications like injuries from falls, or injuries to the feet that they can’t feel due to a lack of sensation.
Jackson said he’s thought about how he wants his family to remember him: through his music.
“I’ve always believed that the music is the most important thing. The songs. And I guess that’s what I’d like to [leave] if I had a legacy,” he told Today.
His wife Denise added, “He’ll have so many songs for our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren to hear and know who he was.”
For more information about Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, check out the Canadian branches of the CMT Association.