Living with tremors can be physically challenging. What may not be so apparent is how tremors may affect the emotional well-being of people living with essential tremor (ET) and tremor-dominant Parkinson’s disease (PD).

When going out in public, shaking hands draw attention. Our hands are visible to others – when you reach out to shake a person’s hand, take money out of your wallet to pay the bill or hold a cup to drink.

The fact that tremor is such a visual condition may exacerbate an individual’s feelings of frustration, anxiety and embarrassment. Research has shown that a large number of patients with essential tremor report significant embarrassment and diminished quality of life. (Lundervold, D.A., et al., 2013) On social media, people retell stories of their shaking hands and being perceived as someone who is unable to control themselves, is nervous or  who is even suspected of substance abuse.

Social Connections

According to Aristotle, human beings are “social animals.” However, a person living with tremor may withdraw from social situations, even from close family and friends.

Scott A. Wylie, PhD, in Addressing the Psychosocial Aspects of Essential Tremor, reports on research which shows that rates of depression, anxiety, and apathy are alarmingly higher in essential tremor patients compared to the general population. In a study of 55 male veterans diagnosed with ET, 74% admitted to feeling embarrassed by their tremor, and 65% acknowledged avoiding social situations because of it.

Social isolation, especially among the elderly, is becoming a major public health issue. According to the National Institute on Aging, loneliness puts people at risk for developing health problems including heart attacks, strokes, depression, anxiety and early death.

On the flip side, it has been shown that people who engage in meaningful and productive activities with others maintain their well-being and tend to live longer.

A large study followed 32,624 healthy men and found that the men who were not married, had fewer than six friends or relatives and were not members of religious or social organizations had a 90% increased risk of cardiovascular death and more than double the risk of death from an accident or suicide as compared to men with the highest level of social networks. (Kawachi et al., 1996). Not only do we seek the companionship of others, but we thrive in social networks.

People living with essential tremor or tremor from Parkinson’s, their families, their caregivers and the multidisciplinary clinical teams caring for them should be aware of the potential psychological effects of tremor. Importantly, they should remember the positive effect of maintaining social ties and interactions for themselves and their loved ones.

To learn more about the emotional burden of essential tremor, download the Frost & Sullivan white paper, commissioned by Insightec.

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