Assessing the impact of essential tremor on upper limb function
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We compared the impact of essential tremor on the performance of three manual tasks: drawing spirals, holding a cup full of water and a joystick-controlled tracking test. Tremor amplitude and frequency were measured by accelerometry during the tracking test, when holding the cup and whilst a standard posture was maintained. The inter-relationships between tremor amplitude, frequency and task impairment were then examined. The results showed that the amplitude and frequency of essential tremor (measured from the principal spectral peak) changed with different activities, with the mildest postural tremors changing most in frequency (by up to 4–5 Hz). The amplitude of tremor decreased in almost every case during the tasks, relative to posture, and this decrement was greatest for the most severe tremors. We also demonstrate that for practical purposes, such as routine clinical situations and therapeutic trials, the effect of essential tremor upon upper limb function can be usefully assessed by two simple complementary techniques: rating spirals and measuring the volume of water split from a cup. The impairments in carrying out these tasks and the tracking test were highly correlated with one another and also with the amplitude and frequency of postural tremor. The concept of tremor “suppressability” is introduced: the relative percentage decrease in the amplitude of a particular tremor during the performance of a specific task compared to that recorded whilst holding a standard posture.
Key wordsHereditary essential tremor Accelerometry Functional measures Suppressability
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