Essential Tremor (ET) is the most common movement disorder, which is often typecast as an illness of the elderly. Nevertheless, this is far from reality. ET may affect people from all ages and is prevalent among 4.6%-5.3% of the childhood population and children are often misdiagnosed due to the stereotype. ET has a hereditary trait, as a study carried in 2004 by Joseph Jankovic showed that out of a sample of 39 children, 79.5% reported at least one relative with tremor. Furthermore, the mean age at onset of the 39 patients was 8.8±5.0 years and mean age at evaluation was 20.3±14.4 years.
ET has disturbing effects on the quality of life of people who suffer from the disease. 20% of children have kinetic tremor only (i.e. tremor present only when the hands are moving), 5% have postural tremor only (i.e. tremor is visible when the hands are held outstretched), and 75% have both. It can prompt depression and also cause social anxiety. For children it can be even tougher to handle since ET may present difficulties preforming school activities as well as being in front of their peers. It can challenge them by making writing, typing, drawing, or even eating a hardship and additionally, peers may make it harder on them since they can make harsh comments. This may lead to children with ET to avoid their peers, or even refuse to try the simplest tasks. One way to avoid this is to be open about the condition with the child’s classmates and boosting self-esteem early on. Family members that suffer from ET can also be of great help and give them advice. Therefore, they will be aware about the condition and this may avoid them making fun of the child suffering from ET. Children may also get shy causing anxiety, which may cause an increase in tremors. Children are often given small doses of propranolol (20-60 mg) to improve the tremors, however there haven’t been any controlled trials to prove it helps children with the tremors.
The frequency of the tremor in children has a lower frequency from ages 7-12 years than from 14-16 years. It goes from an average of 5.3 Hz to 9.0 Hz respectively. An interesting observation is that when putting a 300-gram weight on the fingers of children with ages 7-12 years, the tremor increases in frequency from the 5.3 Hz to 8.2 Hz, whereas in teenagers and adults it has no effect on tremor frequency. Also, tremor in children can be associated with dystonia, which is a condition where there are sustain muscle spasms. Moreover, an over-active thyroid gland may also cause tremor. Consequently, a blood sample for thyroid function tests may be necessary.
If you are a parent of a child with ET, or a young person with ET we invite you to comment down below any questions, thoughts or stories. We would like this to be a place of discussion and, if possible, a way to reach out for help or to get any doubts answered. These connections should lead to a greater understanding, a support network, and opportunities to share advice with other parents or young people suffering from ET.