By Dr. Janice Sallitt, PT, DPT, NCS / JVS Rehab.
The answer to the above question is not a simple yes or no!
As is often the case, it depends on several factors: one of them being where the tremor is located in an individual. The most current medical view is that Essential Tremor (ET) is a syndrome, with tremor being the most obvious symptom. In some cases, it may be the only symptom.
Recent research has shown that tremor of only 1 arm did not show increased risk for imbalance; tremor of the head, jaw, and/or voice did show increased imbalance and fall risk.
Another factor in increased fall risk and/or increased imbalance in a person with ET is age. Persons with ET who are older than age 70 also correlated with increased imbalance and higher fall risk.
At this time, there is little evidence to show the effects of a physical therapy balance/fall prevention program in people with ET; however, in other neurological syndromes, there is a significant amount of evidence over the past 2-3 decades showing decreased fall risk. There is an assumption that, if studied, there would be a high probability that a similar physical therapy program to address the balance deficits would help to lower fall risk.
I hope you find this information helpful and that we can begin much needed studies in this area of ET.
(The above information was a summary of my June 2nd talk to the ET support group in Howard County, MD.)
There is currently a lot of discussion within the ET research community as to whether Essential Tremor is neurodegenerative. If it is, there is further debate as to what percentage are neurodegenerative of those who have been diagnosed with ET.
When I was first diagnosed with Essential Tremor, I was told I had Benign Essential Tremor. If ET is neurodegenerative, it certainly is not benign. At a time when a lot of attention (rightly so) is being given to the neurodegenerative aspects of such conditions as Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and Parkinson’s, I feel that special attention should be given to this possibly life-altering aspect of Essential Tremor.