Essential tremor is a condition that affects 2.2% of the American population – about 1 in 25 adults over 40 and 1 in 10 over 75. For such adults, drinking a cup of coffee without spilling or eating something with a spoon is very difficult and frustrating. Essential tremor starts as tremor in one hand and gradually progresses to both sides of the body. They damage the cells that control movement and when these cells start dying or malfunctioning, other cells in the brain start firing randomly, causing tremors.
Thanks to deep-brain stimulation, a surgical procedure that prevents neurons from firing randomly, tremors can be controlled. DBS consists of two surgeries – the first to implant electrical leads and the second to install a pulse generator. The pulse generator’s job is to produce steady electric pulses to targeted brain regions. The pulses disrupt the spontaneously generated rhythms caused by the randomly firing cells, thus allowing the tremor to be controlled.
Terri Benedix, an artist specializing in floral paintings, started getting tremors in 2013 which progressively got worse. After meeting with Casey Halpern at the Stanford School of Medicine, she decided to get DBS and In July 2020, showed up at Stanford Hospital for the procedure. The medical team drilled two holes in her skull to insert two electrical wires. Later, Dr. Halpern used a recording electrode with a microphone attached to it to locate the tremor inducing cells by sound. Once he found the right area, he inserted a
stimulating electrode and asked Terri to draw a spiral. She was able to draw a very recognizable spiral which made her cry! In a separate surgery a few days later, Dr. Halpern inserted the pulse generator just below her collarbone. With the pulse generator activated, Terri was able to draw a straight line and a spiral, sign her name, stretch her arms to the side, apply mascara and bring a cup of water to her mouth. Soon after, she was texting her family on the tiny keyboard of her phone! It is estimated that activating the pulse generator reduced Terri’s tremors by 90%.
Dr. Halpern implants around 40 of these devices annually to help patients with essential tremor.
Watch the video below to learn more about DBS and how well it worked for Terri. Do you know anyone with tremors? Would you recommend this procedure to them? Let us know in the comments below!
Source: Stanford Medicine