Written by Christopher Hess, M.D.
For many patients with tremor due to Parkinson’s disease (PD) or essential tremor (ET), activities of daily living and social gatherings can be stressful and difficult.
For patients with PD, tremor typically occurs when the affected hand is not being used. While less of a problem for completing tasks, many patients report feeling embarrassed or self-conscious and sometimes avoid social situations. Patients often feel like others are staring at them or will think differently of them because of their tremor.
For patients with ET, tremor typically occurs when using the hand for voluntary movements. ET tremor can make people feel self-conscious when dining or doing tasks like signing checks, and can make day to day activities more challenging. Here are some tips that you can try to prevent tremor from shaking up your life.
- Take your medications on time – We all have busy lives and know how easy it is to forget to take prescribed medications. Use a watch with a timer or other reminder device to make sure you don’t forget to take your medications on time. Engage your spouse or a family member to help you remember. This is especially for patients with PD whose tremor responds well to medications; sometimes being even a little late can make a big difference!
- Occupational therapy – The UF Center for Movement Disorders and Neurorestoration have some of the most experienced and expert occupational therapists in the country, so put them to work for you! They can teach you tips and tricks and assist you in getting devices such as weighted utensils that can help to minimize the impact of tremor.
- Relax and take it easy – Both PD and ET tremor get worse when you are nervous. Often patients will get anxious about tremoring in front of others or before doing a task, and this almost always makes tremor more pronounced, which makes you even more anxious, which makes you tremor even more. It’s a vicious cycle! Our occupational therapists can help you with relaxation techniques if you cannot find some online, and for some patients discussing a short acting anti-anxiety medication with your provider is also appropriate.
- Adjust your computer appropriately – By changing the settings on your mouse’s and keyboard, you can often reduce the sensitivity to tremor and make computer tasks easier. On a Windows PC you can find your settings in your Control Panel, or make an appointment to see occupational therapy and they can walk you through it if you don’t have a tech savvy friend or family member.
- PD patients: Try Keeping That Tremoring Hand Busy – For many patients with PD, keeping the tremoring hand busy with a motor task blocks the abnormal signals that give rise to resting PD tremor. Squeezing a ball or rolling a coin around in your fingers can sometimes be a great way to mask tremor.
- ET Patients: Try Both Hands – In ET tremor, the tremor is usually present in both hands, but the tremor in both hands are out of phase. This means that using both hands when holding a cup or doing other tasks can dampen the tremor. Try it!
See if any of these strategies work for you. Don’t forget that part of fighting against your disease is not letting your symptoms stop you from doing the things you want to do. PD or ET may be an unwelcome passenger on your journey in life, but never let them get behind the wheel! Make an appointment with occupational therapy to learn more about minimizing the effect of your tremor.