Seniors with essential tremor may find relief for up to three years after having an ultrasound procedure that destroys the brain areas that cause the tremor.

Essential tremor is the most common tremor type. When severe, the condition can interfere with activities of daily living such as eating, writing and shaving. Focused ultrasound targets tissue deep in the brain without incisions or radiation and is used when medication does not provide relief.

The study followed 76 senior adults who had essential tremor for an average of 17 years. Three years following treatment, on average, participants’ hand tremors improved by 50%, disability by 56%, and quality of life by 42%, said Casey Halpern, M.D., from Stanford University.

Side effects were mild or moderate and included numbness and tingling, imbalance and unsteadiness, he reported.

The study did not compare focused ultrasound to deep brain stimulation, which is the most frequent therapy for people with severe essential tremor who don’t respond to medication. However, while the treatment creates a permanent lesion, Halpern said that it has advantages over deep brain stimulation. It is a less invasive treatment, is performed in one session, and the benefit is immediate, he stated. 

“For people who have disabling essential tremor … this treatment should be considered as a safe and effective option,” Halpern concluded.

An article was published in the journal Neurology.