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Essential Tremor Linked to Tripled Risk of Dementia, Study Finds

A new study has found that people with essential tremor, a common movement disorder causing involuntary shaking, may be three times more likely to develop dementia compared to the general population. The research, set to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 76th Annual Meeting in April 2024, sheds light on the potential link between essential tremor and cognitive decline.

Essential tremor, which affects more people than Parkinson’s disease, can cause shaking in the arms, hands, head, jaw, and voice. While some individuals experience mild tremors, others may have severe symptoms that impact their ability to perform daily tasks like writing and eating.

The study, led by Dr. Elan D. Louis from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, followed 222 people with essential tremor, with an average age of 79, over a period of five years. Participants underwent thinking and memory tests to assess their cognitive abilities throughout the study.

At the start of the study, 168 participants had normal cognitive skills, 35 had mild cognitive impairment, and 19 had dementia. During the study, 59 developed mild cognitive impairment, and 41 developed dementia. The rates of dementia and mild cognitive impairment among participants were significantly higher than those in the general population, although lower than the rates seen in people with Parkinson’s disease.

“While the majority of people with essential tremor will not develop dementia, our findings provide the basis for physicians to educate people with essential tremor and their families about the heightened risk, and any potential life changes likely to accompany this diagnosis,” said Dr. Louis.

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health, and while it provides valuable insights, researchers acknowledge that a limitation was the use of comparison data from the general population that was published prior to the start of the study.

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