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Everyone experiences shaking hands at one point in time or the other. However, continuous shaking is more common in some people as they age. Shaking hands or having any part of the body shake continuously can make doing simple tasks difficult.
While shaking hands in the elderly are often attributed to essential tremors, there are several causes of elderly shaking hands, from transient benign causes to them being the side effects of medications.
If you’re an older person and are curious about the occurrence of shaking hands in the elderly population, read on as we look at some of the causes. However, it’s best to visit your healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis if you’re experiencing any symptoms.
Though shaking hands are more common in elderly patients, not all experience shaking. For victims, it may be caused by benign problems that resolve on their own or result from an underlying disease.
Age-related tremors are often neurological and may be a sign of neurodegeneration. If you are in a family where older adults have movement disorders, chances are high that you may develop hand tremors also.
As already established, there are several causes of involuntary movements and trembling in the elderly.
Trembling or shakiness in elderly patients cannot often be traced to just one thing. For example, it’s common for your hands to shake if you’ve not eaten in a long while because of low blood sugar levels. This is just one of the several reasons behind tremors in elderly and shaky hands. Some other conditions that are associated with shaking hands and old age include the following:
1. Essential Tremor
This is one of the most common causes of shaky hands in older adults. It’s a benign type of tremor with an unknown cause. However, some experts say that it may be hereditary. Essential tremor is a movement disorder that disrupts the quality of one's life. It either affects just one or both hands and is worse when performing tasks like drinking from a cup or writing. Tremors can also affect the voice, head, and torso.
The intensity of the tremors in this medical condition varies from individual to individual. Some people may just experience mild shakiness, while others may be terrible, making it difficult to do simple tasks like getting dressed or eating. Although no cures exist, medications, treatments, and adaptive devices like the Steadiwear are available to manage the symptoms.
2. Huntington’s Disease
This inherited brain disease causes brain defects and reduces the life expectancy of its sufferers. Symptoms usually start from 30-50 years. The first sign of Huntington’s disease is an uncontrollable movement of the arms, legs, hands, face, feet, and upper body. As the disease progresses, it affects thinking and reasoning.
3. Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis is caused by damage to the myelin coating on nerves. Symptoms include shaking hands and other parts of the body. A physical or occupational therapist can manage the condition.
Hypoglycemia is a condition where the blood glucose levels are below normal. It means your nerves and muscles are low on energy because of low sugar. Symptoms usually include shaky hands, sweating, hunger, and anxiety, as the condition causes the release of hormones like epinephrine and norepinephrine.
5. Side effects from prescription medications
Some drugs in your medicine cabinet may have tremors and shakiness as a side effect. Some medications include seizure and asthma medications, mood stabilizers, stimulants, cancer treatments, antidepressants, antivirals, and antibiotics.
6. Alcohol abuse or withdrawal
Shaky hands or tremors often come as symptoms of excessive alcohol consumption or withdrawal. These tremors begin as early as 10 hours after your last drink of alcohol and may last several weeks. This is why recovering alcoholic must reduce their alcohol intake under the guidance of a skilled and experienced healthcare provider and addiction specialist. They will offer the right medications to help manage hand tremors and other symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
7. Overactive Thyroid
An overactive thyroid gland means that your body is always working on overdrive. The signs of an overactive thyroid are not easily noticeable. Your hands may shake due to overstimulation of your nerves, and you may also exhibit other symptoms like weight loss, insatiable hunger, racing heart, exhaustion, etc.
8. Too much caffeine intake
Excessive caffeine intake can lead to tremors and other symptoms. Caffeine is a stimulant most take to stay alert and be effective at work. Just as it helps a person stay awake, it can also cause your hands to shake if you take too much of it.
Caffeine is not just limited to coffee; you can find caffeine in beverages, chocolate, and some over-the-counter medicine. Other signs of excessive caffeine intake include restlessness, agitation, anxiety, stomach issues and irritability, and an irregular heartbeat.
Older people can also experience shakiness because of anxiety. Anxiety releases stress hormones, also known as “fight or flight” hormones meaning your body is activated to respond to danger. This would make your hand muscles shake or twitch in response. Tremors caused by anxiety are also known as psychogenic tremors.
According to the National institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, different types of tremors affect patients, from temporary shaking to long-term movement disorders.
A very common type of action tremor is essential tremor (ET). As you already know, action tremors usually function with voluntary muscle contraction. Some tremors that fall under this include postural, kinetic, and isometric. Postural tremor occurs when a particular part of a person’s body works against gravity, holding out their arms.
Kinetic tremor is common with voluntary actions like closing and opening one’s eyes. In contrast, isometric tremors occur when a person performs tasks without additional movements, like holding a weight or cup.
Everyone experiences this tremor, but you probably won’t notice because it’s a normal body function. For example, if you stretch out your arms in front of you, you may notice a slight shake of your hand. That’s physiologic and is barely noticeable to the naked eye. It occurs in healthy people and is caused by normal body processes like your heart beating and pumping blood through the body.
Enhanced Physiologic Tremor
This is more noticeable than physiologic tremors and is seen in healthy individuals. It is usually temporary and reverses once the underlying cause is found. For example, it may be caused by a reaction to drug or alcohol drinking. If an older adult experiences shaky hands because of hyperthyroidism and the condition is treated, the shakiness automatically ceases.
Also known as functional tremor, psychogenic tremor is involuntary muscle movement usually caused by a psychological problem like stress, anxiety, depression, or PTSD. The tremors usually cause sudden shaking in older patients and become more pronounced when the person is stressed. Tremor can affect the hands but usually moves on to other body parts.
The most effective treatment for a condition like this is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). It helps people identify and process their emotions effectively.
Orthostatic tremor presents with shaky and unstable legs that disappear when seated or walking. The tremor is usually not noticeable to the naked eye unless the affected leg is touched. Drugs are usually prescribed to treat orthostatic tremors.
Another name for a cerebellar tumor is an intentional tremor. It’s a slow, rhythmic, and easily noticeable shaking after a purposeful movement like pressing a button or writing on paper. The shakiness usually happens after a stroke or because of other medical conditions like multiple sclerosis, brain tumor, or alcohol misuse. It is often treated with prescription medications.
Are you an older adult struggling with shaky hands, or did you just start experiencing sudden tremors? Before doing anything, the best line of action is to visit your healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment.
As you’ve seen, there are different types and causes of tremors, and one of the most common is essential tremors. Thanks to technology, there are new therapies to make symptoms more manageable. Steadiwear offers a noninvasive way to deal with shaking hands in the form of a weighted hand glove that reduces the occurrence of tremors and makes doing tasks easier.
There have been testimonies from people suffering from tremors that it has improved their quality of life. Though there is no cure for essential tremors, you can manage your symptoms and live a better life by pursuing various therapies and treatment options available.
For more information or to inquire about Steadiwear, click here.