Brian was diagnosed with essential tremor in 1995 at the age of 40. An engineer at a nuclear test facility, Bryan assumed that since his co-workers didn't mention his tremor, they didn't notice it. But on difficult days, Bryan would need to rest after work for up to 2 hours. "The days felt wasted," he says.
By the time Bryan was diagnosed with essential tremor, many "normal" activities had become difficult for him. "I couldn't use a fork to eat peas," he says. "I had to use a spoon. When I used a key, I'd have to try several times. Then I'd have to sit down from the effort."
Bryan also played the piano and directed his church choir throughout the progression of his tremor. As his condition worsened, he comforted himself with the thought that he would simply adjust to his new limitations.
But it bothered Bryan that as his sons got older, they began to notice that their father was different. "When we'd go to concerts and games for the kids," he says, "They would have to take pictures because I couldn't. They tried to keep me involved, but I didn't like that they always had to do things for me."
Bryan tried a number of medications to manage his tremor, but they carried side effects like weight gain and sluggishness that for him were worse than the tremors themselves. "I just decided to live with the tremor and gave up on hope of treatment," says Bryan.
Bryan had already heard of Medtronic Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) Therapy for Essential Tremor when his neurologist suggested the treatment. "He told me DBS Therapy would change my life," says Bryan. "I was ready for it." In April 2000 Bryan began the treatment, which helped to still the tremors that had dominated his right side for 11 years.
DBS Therapy uses a surgically implanted medical device much like a cardiac pacemaker to deliver minute electrical stimulation to precisely targeted areas within the brain. The stimulation is delivered through a medical wire called a lead, which is tunnelled beneath the skin.
Stimulation of these areas blocks the signals that cause the disabling motor symptoms of essential tremor. The electrical stimulation can be non-invasively adjusted to maximise treatment benefits. As a result, individuals like Bryan achieve greater control over their body movements.1
Risks of DBS Therapy can include risks of surgery, side effects, or device complications. Implanting the neurostimulator system carries the same risks associated with any other brain surgery.
Bryan did experience some tingling sensations in his hands before the programming was fine tuned. He was surprised, however, by the fact that he couldn't feel the surgery even though he was awake.
"They tell you that your brain doesn't have any nerve endings," he notes. "Still, in the back of my mind I kept thinking it would still hurt. But I didn't feel anything. Not even pressure."
According to Bryan, the implanted parts of the DBS system are not a problem. He can feel the neurostimulator in his chest, and the wires under his scalp, "but they don't bother me. I wish I had started using stimulation 10 years ago. I had given up and thought I just had to live with my tremor. But I didn't have to."
A week after surgery, Bryan returned to his neurologist to have the stimulation turned on and adjusted. "I could see the difference immediately," he says. "The change was incredible. Within a day or two, I was amazed how easy it was to do things like write a check and sign my name."
These days, Bryan runs errands for his family, helps his children with their school projects. He's also more involved at church, where people tell him his piano playing is much better.
Bryan has also become more confident at work. "Before the surgery, I had been hiding out in my office without realising it," he recalls. "Within a week of going back to work, I was out talking to people, which I hadn't done in a long time."
This story reflects one person's experience. Not every person will receive the same results. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options.