Do you remember the first time someone said something about your tremor that stopped you in your tracks? Whether it was a friend, family member, co-worker or stranger, it can be difficult to interpret the intention, and whether it was from a place of ignorance, malice, or concern. No matter the circumstance, most, if not all, people living with essential tremor (ET) identify with hearing hurtful comments due to their tremor.
That’s why we’ve put together this list of things to avoid saying to someone who has tremor. While we realize it’s not comprehensive and everyone’s experience with essential tremor is different, we encourage you to add to it and share it with your support circle. By spreading awareness, we can provide further understanding and destigmatize essential tremor, potentially avoiding additional emotional pain in the future.
1. “Are you sick?”
Essential tremor, also referred to as familial, idiopathic, or benign tremor, is a common neurological condition that causes symptoms like uncontrollable shaking of the hands, head and voice, and occasionally the legs and trunk, resulting in impaired fine motor skills. While essential tremor can often be confused with Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor is eight times more common and affects an estimated 10 million Americans and many more worldwide. 1
Unlike Parkinson’s, which is a progressive degenerative disease that has a range of motor symptoms, essential tremor is not degenerative in nature and is the result of certain neurons malfunctioning in the brain.
Sometimes, tremors can be confused with a symptom of a fever that is caused by a viral or bacterial infection. While essential tremor is a medical condition that should be taken seriously, it is not contagious.
If you or a loved one have essential tremor that has not improved with medication, you may be a candidate for alternative therapies, including focused ultrasound treatment from Insightec. Take this quiz to see if you qualify.
2. “Don’t be nervous.”
While anxiety, stress and discomfort can make essential tremor symptoms worse, they do not cause them. In reality, most people do not want others to assume that their tremor is due to anxiety or nervousness. Truth be told, there is still much we don’t know about what causes essential tremor. In fact, the word “essential” in the medical world means there’s no known underlying cause for the condition.
3. “You are too young to have tremors.”
While essential tremor can occur at any time, symptoms often become more pronounced and common in older adults. Esssential tremor can also affect individuals of any age – including younger adults and children. In rare cases, it has been reported during infancy, especially for those who have a family history of ET.
4. “What is taking you so long?”
When you have ET, daily activities and tasks can take longer. Even “simple” tasks like signing a document, preparing a meal, or getting ready for the day can require extra time when one’s hands or other body parts are not cooperating.
5. “The same thing happens to me when I drink too much coffee.”
While some well-meaning people try to build a connection with comments like this, they instead diminish the involuntary nature of essential tremor and are usually counterproductive, pushing people apart instead of bringing them closer together. Even though a person with essential tremor can reduce or eliminate caffeine, the shaking will continue. Similar to the symptoms of anxiety, caffeine and sugar can exacerbate tremors, but they are not the cause of this medical condition.
It is important to acknowledge the harm done by these comments and questions, but we shouldn’t stop there. Read some tips on what you should do, in the upcoming article: Five Helpful Things to Say to Someone Who Has a Tremor.
by Katie Gant, PhD, Medical Science Liaison
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The information on this website is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always discuss treatment options and treatment outcomes with your physician or other qualified health provider.