Movement is the core to who we are as humans. It allows us to enjoy life. When you have a problem with how you move it effects your everyday existence.
The research being done at HHP includes movement disorders ranging from Parkinson’s Disease (PD) to Dystonia, however, one of the most prevalent disorders the aging adult faces is Essential Tremor. As many as 10 million Americans are living with essential tremor and have fears of how it will progress and what their future will hold. Drs. Chris Hass and David Vaillancourt are two HHP professors doing their part to understand the brain and behavior of patients with essential tremor.
Essential tremor (ET) is a neurological condition that causes a rhythmic trembling of the hands, head, voice, legs or trunk. Some people even feel an internal shake. One major aim for Dr. Vaillancourt is to understand where in the brain tremor occurs and the specific brain networks that impact the severity of the disease.
“It is well known that tremor originates in the brain, yet the network that drives tremor is not well understood,” explains Dr. Vaillancourt. “Understanding the brain network for tremor is key in developing new therapies that would dampen tremor.”
Additionally, the work being done in Dr. Vaillancourt’s lab is to look for specific biomarkers that distinguish Parkinson’s Disease from ET. ET is often confused with Parkinson’s disease because Parkinson’s patients also have tremor. However, ET is eight times more common than PD and the tremor is different to what Parkinson’s patients experience. Treatment approaches are also different which mean that accurate diagnosis is essential.
According to Dr. Vaillancourt, he and his team are focused on understanding the brain networks for each type of tremor. This will provide a signature in the brain that would be helpful in diagnoses of ET and Parkinson’s.
Meanwhile, down the hall of the Florida Gym, Dr. Chris Hass is actively understanding the impact tremor has on walking and mobility and trying to better understand the disease process so that more effective interventions can be identified.
“Although ET is often described as a condition that creates tremor within the upper extremities, we have uncovered identifiable impairments in walking and balance abilities,” says Dr. Hass. “Our research is focusing on fully explaining the detriments in performance and relating them to abnormal brain activity so that effective rehabilitation programs can be implemented.”
Deep brain stimulation (DBS) therapy is very effective at reducing tremor in persons with ET, however we have found that a significant subset of surgical cases report falling episodes and increased hospitalization due to falls. Dr. Hass’ Applied Neuromechanics Laboratory is performing studies evaluating the impact of DBS therapy on gait and balance performance to further understand the effects of DBS, ET and associated balance issues.
“It is through the collaboration we have with our colleagues at HHP, and across campus at the UF medical school that we are able to make such ground breaking strides in this important research and be part of training the next generation of researchers and scientists,” says Dr. Hass.