A tremor is an involuntary muscle spasm that leads to shaking in one or more areas of the body. It is quite common among seniors and can affect the head, vocal cords, arms, legs, and torso. A tremor can occur sporadically, be continual, or develop as a result of another disorder. Tremors are most common among seniors and middle-aged adults, though they can occur for many reason at many different ages. Tremors are not life threatening, but they can cause some serious side effects that can be embarrassing and even debilitating.
What Causes Tremors?
Tremor occurs due to problems deep in the brain related to controlling movement that can arise for a number of reasons. Most tremors do not have any known causes, but there is a strong correlation to genetics and disease. Some of the neurological disorders associated with tremors are:
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Parkinson’s Disease Traumatic Brain Injuries
- Particular Medications
- Alcohol Abuse (Long Term)
- Mercury Poisoning
- Liver or Kidney Failure
Tremors are classified according to two different types. These are resting tremors and action tremors. A resting tremor occurs when the body part is relaxed, like when your hands are resting on your lap or legs are kicked up on a stool. Resting tremors cause individual’s limbs to shake even when they are at rest. The results can be seen in the hands and the fingers and is called “pitrolling”. Those suffering from Parkinson’s Disease will roll their hands and fingers as though they are rolling an invisible ball. Action tremors occur when the muscles are active or voluntarily moving. There are several sub-categories of action tremors, including:
Kinetic tremors occur during any voluntary movement, with something as minor as opening or closing the eyes to raising your arm.
Postural tremor occurs whenever someone takes up a position against gravity, such as a power stance or holding their arms outward.
This type of tremor occurs whenever the individual performs a goal oriented task such as writing, speaking, or touching something. Typically these are highly-skilled or fine-point tasks.
Occurs when the individual attempts to hold a voluntary muscle movement such as holding a heavy dumbbell or book in the air.
Intention tremors occur whenever the individual produces a purposeful movement towards a target, such as lifting a finger to your nose. The tremor usually gets worse the closer you get to the target.
Making Lifestyle Changes for Seniors
If you are worried about your seniors onset of tremors, it may be worth consulting with a physical therapist. Physical therapy can help you control your tremors and work on your functioning, muscle control, and strength with balance and coordination exercises. Seniors will be encouraged to use weights, resistance bands, and other equipment to focus on improving their overall mobility and strength.
Seniors should also try to avoid any tremor inducing substances like caffeine or medications that are stimulants. Alcohol may appear to alleviate the symptoms of tremors, but in actuality it only exacerbates the problem. Tremors become worse once the effects wear off. For that reason, alcohol should be avoided.
Are Tremors Dangerous?
Although tremors are not considered a life-threatening condition, they can be a severe impediment to daily life and could be very disabling for senior. It is often difficult for individuals with tremors to get through even normal daily life like other people can. Activities like working, eating, bathing, and dressing can all become much more difficult and require the assistance of another individual to complete. Seniors with tremors may decide to limit their time spent doing physical activities, traveling, or other social engagements in order to avoid embarrassment or injury.
The symptoms of tremors get worse with age. There is also growing evidence that people with tremors are more likely to develop further neurological impairments such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Physiological and drug-related tremors can usually be treated by medication and physical therapy, but like essential tremor, the symptoms worsen as the individual ages.
Is There a Cure?
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes is the leading voice when it comes to gathering knowledge about the mind and the nervous system in order to alleviate the effects of neurological disorders. Hopefully, this research will help us to better understand brain function and what leaves someone more susceptible to this disorder in the first place.
Magnetic resonance imaging technology is used by researchers to help strengthen our understanding or brain circuit functioning and motor behavior. The ultimate goal is to create therapies that will restore normal levels of functioning in patient brains. Uncovering more about the genetic component of tremors is also important. Similarly, ongoing development of medications and treatment methods will help patients live normal, high functioning lives.
Interestingly enough, some patients respond well to ethanol (alcohol). It is not known exactly why, but scientists hope to learn more about the correlation and to develop a more sustainable treatment method for long term use.
In conclusion, there are many precautionary measures you can take to address tremors in the elderly. Proceed with a fair amount of caution during observation. It’s essential that you identify symptoms early, as people take longer to complete tasks of any capacity when they age. Your attention to detail needs to be heightened as well. Make sure to be vigilant in observation, but not to the point where honest mistakes are impossible to recognize. At the end of the day, if you and your loved one are unsure of any signs or symptoms contact your local doctor immediately, as it’s always safer to error on the side of caution when it comes to serious health risks.