Neurological conditions like essential tremor (ET) can present a range of symptoms in both the brain and the body. From challenges with involuntary movement to intermittent memory loss, ET can have numerous effects on the physical and mental tasks we encounter in everyday life.
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at essential tremor and cognitive impairment, why essential tremor affects the brain, and the options available for treatment. Read on for a comprehensive overview or use the links below to navigate throughout the article.
Summary of Essential Tremor
Before we explain the connection between essential tremor and cognitive impairment, let’s start with a brief overview of ET. Essential tremor is a neurological condition that is most common in people aged 40 and older, but can affect anyone of any age. The most common physical symptoms of ET include:
- Involuntary shaking, especially in the hands
- Difficulty with daily tasks such as writing, eating with utensils, drinking from a cup, etc.
On a neurological level, some patients experience cognitive performance issues with essential tremor, as well as challenges with memory. While there is no known cause of essential tremor, the condition is often associated with age and hereditary factors.
Why Does Essential Tremor Impact Cognitive Function?
Essential tremor most often affects an individual’s motor skills, which are controlled by the nervous system. With essential tremor, daily tasks like brushing your hair and teeth or holding your arms outstretched can be extremely difficult, but from where does the connection between essential tremor and cognitive impairment stem?
The nervous (neurological) system regulates movement and motor skills, equilibrium, and the five senses, but it’s also responsible for thinking processes, awareness, and consciousness levels. In total, the nervous system comprises the brain, the spinal cord, and all of the nerves in the body.
While ET has traditionally been associated with its physical symptoms, like active and stress tremors, researchers have more recently found a connection between ET and mild cognitive impairment, memory loss, and dementia. In a study of essential tremor patients, NIH.gov reported that 25% had prevalent dementia, and 8.7% developed incident dementia. The cognitive issues with essential tremor are still being examined, but the connection likely has to do with the cerebellum.
Essential tremor and the cerebellum
The cerebellum houses more than 50% of the neurons in your brain. It is also involved in several information-processing functions, including the way we use our sensory systems and how we exhibit cognition, language, and emotions. The cerebellum’s expertise in information-processing also plays an important role in mental and motor dexterity—in other words, how we use our brain and motor skills.
A 2012 NIH study examined the relationship between the cerebellum and essential tremor. The study supported that cerebellar functions, like motor tasks, were affected by ET; researchers also found evidence that other cerebellar skills, such as memory, abstract reasoning, and language processing, were negatively impacted.
Ultimately, the 2012 study concluded that in addition to the abnormal tremors rhythms, like shaky hands, essential tremor also impacts non-motor aspects that are controlled by the cerebellum. This research encouraged medical professionals to reexamine ET’s classification as a “pure motor disease;” as a result, it’s become an important element of essential tremor treatment.
Symptoms: Cognitive Aspects of Essential Tremor
So, what does essential tremor and cognitive impairment really look like? Cognitive issues with essential tremor can vary in severity and nature from person to person. Let’s examine and define some of the cognitive symptoms associated with essential tremor (ET).
Everyone experiences harmless slips of memory from time to time. With essential tremor, memory loss can start to disrupt daily tasks, like working, interacting with friends and family, etc. According to the Mayo Clinic, memory loss can be a result of reversible factors (i.e., medications, head trauma, emotional disorders, alcoholism), aging, dementia, or other cognitive disorders, like ET.
The verbal fluency test measures an individual’s ability to adequately verbalize words within a given category or beginning with a given letter. This test, along with other neuropsychological assessments, is used to help diagnose neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
As defined by ScienceDirect.com, verbal memory is the storage of phonological information (i.e., how words are pronounced and other speech-based information). One of the ways essential tremor alters cognitive function is with reduced verbal memory performance.
Dementia and Essential Tremor
As we’ve mentioned throughout this post, patients with essential tremor are more at risk for dementia than the general population. Though it is not classified as a disease by the Center for Disease Control, dementia is characterized as a series of symptoms, namely, the inability to think, remember, or make decisions to the extent that it disrupts daily activities. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia.
Essential Tremor Treatment
Although there is no cure for essential tremor, there are several treatment options designed to manage the symptoms of hand tremor:
- Surgical procedures: Thalamotomy, focused ultrasound, gamma-knife surgery, deep brain stimulation
- Medication: Propranolol, Primidone, Benzodiazepines, Gabapentin, Topiramate, Mirtazapine, Botox
- Alternative treatment: Acupuncture, yoga, massage, and non-invasive therapies
Meet Cala Trio
For many, essential tremor causes extreme physical and mental discomfort, leading to feelings of frustration over time. Cala Trio aims to help patients with essential tremor regain control of their hand tremor symptoms.
Using state of the art technology, the prescription essential tremor therapy is the only individualized, wrist-worn, non-invasive therapy on the market. By calibrating to your unique tremor, Cala Trio gently stimulates the affected nerves and eases hand tremor symptoms in patients who have essential tremor.
Ready to reclaim control in your day to day life? Learn how to get started with Cala Trio today.