Originally created 09/30/97

Age old questions



Q: What causes tremors?

A: Many people, young and old, have minor "shakes." Sometimes the cause might be nervousness, but ask just about anyone to hold a piece of paper perfectly still for one minute and they'll most likely fail.

But several million older Americans are concerned about tremors that are more than minor: they disrupt the daily activities of life. For many, the shakers and movers are the hands. Other people have tremors in their voice, or which make their head wag back and forth in a perpetual "yes" or "no."

The saddest part of all may be the people with tremors who get no help, wrongly assuming that tremors are a normal part of aging. In fact, what doctors call "essential tremor" is usually treatable. And it is not a normal part of aging.

Although doctors don't have all the answers on the direct and indirect causes of essential tremor, there are certain factors that are not involved. Essential tremor has no link to psychological disorders or any other disease, including Parkinson's disease.

If you have been concerned that your shakes are the early signs of the tremors common in Parkinson's disease, here are some differences. Essential tremor affects the hands most while they are in use, while Parkinson's tremors are most common when the hands are at rest. Essential tremor can involve the head, voice and hands, but Parkinson's is typically the hands only. Parkinson's can have a host of other symptoms, including slurred speech and memory loss, while essential tremor is associated with no other health problems.

For a complete checkup that can rule out various causes and help you get relief, check with your doctor. The cause might be discovered to be as simple as a side effect from some medicines you are taking.

Too many stimulants, like coffee, can exaggerate tremors that would normally go unnoticed. Or the caffeine in certain medicines may be the culprit. In either case, a simple adjustment can solve the problem.

If you have a question or want additional information, write to Shirley McIntosh, Resource Center on Aging, 2803 Wrightsboro Road, Suite 51, Augusta, Ga., 30909