When benign essential tremor spells trouble

I have lived with tremors in my right hand and arms for over five years now.

Although they’re not severe, they do affect my ability to write as neatly as I’d like and are most apparent when I hold a spoon or fork to eat. And you don’t want me drinking a glass of red wine anywhere near your white carpet.

Despite all of that, my doctor has always assured me that tremors like mine don’t result in other problems down the road. In fact, the condition is commonly referred to as benign essential tremor. And when benign appears before a medical condition it implies it’s not harmful.

Well, my doctor is probably going to be surprised to learn that I, and everyone else who lives with essential tremors, is at an elevated risk for dementia…

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The risk that essential tremor carries

To be clear, essential tremor is not the same as the tremors seen in Parkinson’s patients. But they can look similar.

While Parkinson’s tremors are associated with the disease and are most noticeable when the hands or feet are at rest, essential tremors happen during use of the affected body part — most often a hand — and have no known cause.

It may also cause head nodding or the voice to quiver — symptoms seen in one of my favorite actresses, the late Katharine Hepburn.

With that said, let’s get to the research and the risk that no one knew about…

Doctors at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas followed over 200 senior adults with essential tremor for an average of five years.

Each participant had a follow-up exam every year and a half, and at those visits the researchers checked for any changes in their cognitive levels.

That data would be analyzed at study completion to compare the rate at which any of the study participants might develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and dementia against the general population and people with Parkinson’s.

So, what did they find?

  • 19 percent of participants had or developed dementia during the study;
  • 27 percent of the participants developed MCI;

Those rates for dementia were three times higher than the rates in the general population. However, they were lower than what’s seen in people with Parkison’s, for whom dementia is prevalent.

The rate for MCI was double that of the general population — but again, less than the rate of 40 percent seen in people with Parkinson’s.

Sort of like the word “benign” in describing essential tremor, the word “mild” paired with cognitive impairment makes it sound like you’re only “mildly” losing your memory. But we’ve known for a while that MCI is a serious disorder and is often an early stage or sign of dementia. It also doubles your risk of early death.

But researchers have said that early detection and monitoring of the condition can prolong life.

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Be proactive about brain health

Risks are not written in stone, but armed with this new information, I’m a little more aware of the symptoms of MCI — and you may want to be as well. They include:

  • Forgetting things more often.
  • Missing appointments.
  • Losing your train of thought.
  • Having trouble following a conversation or keeping up with the plot of a book or movie.
  • Have a harder time making decisions, finishing a task or following instructions.
  • Developing poor judgement
  • Having any of these symptoms to a degree that family and friends notice.

Fortunately, plenty of research has looked into how to support brain health and memory. Here are a few I practice and some I plan to…

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People with essential tremor may have increased risk of dementia — EurekAlert!

Mild Cognitive Impairment — Mayo Clinic

Essential tremor — Mayo Clinic

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

By Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst is a board-certified Doctor of Chiropractic, with more than 20 years of experience. She has dedicated herself to helping others enjoy life at every age through the use of alternative medicine and natural wellness options. Dr. Schmedthorst enjoys sharing her knowledge with the alternative healthcare community, providing solutions for men and women who are ready to take control of their health the natural way.