It is the rare person who doesn’t remember legendary film actress Katharine Hepburn. Whether it is from her movies with Spencer Tracy, or her hit with Peter Fonda On Golden Pond, chances are you have seen and fondly remember something that she has been in. While you will remember her distinctive voice and proud chin no matter what generation of film you have seen, it is understandable if the most memorable trait that you hold of this fascinating woman is her shaking head as she aged. Many people think that Hepburn’s tremors were the result of Parkinson’s Disease but in reality, her tremors were something called essential tremors.
Essential tremors are defined by inexplicable shaking in a part of your body. The shaking can affect your hands, head, arms, legs or any other region. When you have essential tremors, the shaking can be so bad that your everyday activities are interrupted and impacted negatively. In less extreme cases, the tremors can merely be annoying and may elicit questions for people who work with you or other family members.
A genetic mutation has been shown to be responsible for fifty percent of all the cases of essential tremors that currently exist. If you do not have a genetic mutation then, unfortunately, the cause of your essential tremor will likely go undiagnosed because there is no known cause other than the genetic mutation and that, again, only make up fifty percent of all cases.
You can inherit the mutated gene that causes essential tremor from just one parent. You may not actually see any symptoms of the disease though until you age. Like your ability to inherit it from a parent, if you have the genetic mutation them you run the risk of transmitting it to one of your own children.
There are many complications that you may encounter as a result of a diagnosis of essential tremor and many behaviors you may have to adapt in order to live and survive with the disease. You may need to use cups with lids since the shaking of your hands can cause spillage, which is especially dangerous when drinking hot beverages. You may have to use modified utensils so that you can eat your food without hurting yourself. Shaving can also bring about a very dangerous situation when you have essential tremors. Make sure you use a safety razor rather than a straight razor.
In very extreme cases, the vocal cords, voice box and tongue can be so severely affected by essential tremors that talking in an understandable way becomes impossible. If you listen to later interviews with Katharine Hepburn, you can get an idea of the types of changes your voice can go through.
There isn’t any cure for essential tremors. Instead, patients who are diagnosed with the disease manage their symptoms with medications, physical therapy and, rarely, surgery. In terms of medications, many anti-seizure medications and tranquilizers have been found to lessen the symptoms of essential tremor disease. Some of these are habit forming and both induce drowsiness, which can be dangerous.
Physical therapy can improve muscle control and when it is combined with occupational therapy (the use of adaptive devices at home such as heavy plates and glasses) can reduce the symptoms because they force your muscles to work on a focused task and reduce the amount of trembling they can do.
When surgery is used, it’s done to implant a pacemaker type of device into your brain to change the signals that are sent and reduce the tremors. This type of surgery is rare and only used on those cases that are so extreme, activities of daily living are severely impacted.