March brings us National Essential Tremor Awareness Month. International Essential Tremor Foundation (IETF) began this tradition in order to raise awareness of this life-altering condition that affects an estimated 10 million Americans. Essential tremor can occur at any age, but it is most commonly found in the elderly.
This neurological condition causes involuntary, rhythmic trembling of, most commonly, the hands. In addition, other parts of the body that can be affected are the arms, face, head, neck and muscles of the trunk. To a lesser degree, the legs and feet may be involved. Even the voice may exhibit signs of a tremor. The tremor is not usually visible upon rest, but erupts with movement. Small amounts of alcohol can reduce an essential tremor. This type of tremor does not cause other health concerns, but it can lead to a mild gait disturbance.
Though not life-threatening, it does interfere with the everyday activities of living such as eating, writing, bathing, dressing and meal preparation. An elderly care provider can assist with these daily tasks. Symptoms may increase when the person is under stress, exhibiting fatigue, subjected to extreme temperatures, or has consumed caffeine or nicotine.
How it Differs from Parkinson’s
Many caregivers become concerned when they see tremors developing in their parent. Their first thoughts turn to the tremors associated with Parkinson’s disease. There are, however, ways to differentiate the two.
The tremors of Parkinson’s have these characteristics:
The tremors usually occur at rest and diminish or stop with movement.
While Parkinson’s tremors also start in the hands, they go on to affect other parts of the body.
The tremors are slower than those associated with essential tremors.
They are not affected by alcohol.
Parkinson’s causes other health problems such as stooped posture, slow movement and shuffling gait.
Other conditions that may lead to tremors include multiple sclerosis, stroke, traumatic brain injury, some medications, alcohol abuse and an overactive thyroid.
Causes of Essential Tremor
It is not clear what causes this type of tremor except that half of all cases seem to result from genetics. If you are a child with a parent with essential tremors, you have up to a 50 percent chance of inheriting the gene responsible for the disease, though you may never exhibit the symptoms.
If your loved one finds the tremors interfering with daily life, there are possible treatment options to consider. If you find they are limiting their social engagement due to the tremor, it may also be time to consider alternative viable options. Several medications are shown to reduce the severity of essential tremors. Botox injections have been used for vocal and head tremors. For those with severe tremors, deep brain stimulation or focused ultrasound are considerations.
How to Help
Tremors often become worse with stress. Maintaining a calm living environment for your parent is helpful in reducing the severity of tremors. Share relaxation techniques. Keep caffeine out of their diet and if they smoke, help them stop. Take a list of all medications they are taking to their pharmacist to see if any of these may be causing or increasing the condition. Obtain the services of an elderly care provider who can assist with the daily activities of living.