One of the most embarrassing effects of essential tremor (ET) is the inability to control one’s hands during intentional movement. Medication to control movement only works for about half of people, and its effect can diminish over time. Daily acts that most people take for granted, like engaging a zipper or sipping coffee, become nerve-wracking and undignified. One of the worst experiences is eating in public, whether with guests at home or fellow diners in a restaurant.
There are many assistive devices to help make eating more normal and less attention getting. Some of them rely on design change, while others use principles of balance or weight adjustment.
One unique product uses a feat of electronics to counter the tremor’s motions. It’s like a utensil with a brain. Now branded as LiftWare, the product was developed by an engineer, Anupam Pathak, who witnessed the eating challenges of ET patients. The device is described as an electro-mechanical assistive device, and Pathak was awarded funding by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The LiftWare base looks like a stubby, chubby electric toothbrush handle, and comes with a detachable spoon.
What makes LiftWare one-of-a-kind is its ability to sense the speed and amplitude (size) of a person’s hand tremor. As the tremor moves in one direction, the LiftWare handle stabilizes the spoon by moving it the opposite, at the same speed and amplitude. In other words, the hand moves yet the spoon stays relatively steady because it corrects for the tremor in order to achieve motion control.
The Department of Neurology at the University of Michigan participated in a pilot study that was published in the journal Movement Disordersi. Though the study was small, on average participants achieved more than 70% reduction in tremor effect during eating. On the other hand, “real life” user reviews are mixed. While some patients felt liberated, others found LiftWare a pricey disappointment.
The takeaway good news is this: research/development efforts are continually happening to improve quality of life for tremor patients, especially during early to middle stages of conditions like ET or Parkinson’s disease before a patient considers a more durable treatment like noninvasive MRI-guided Focused Ultrasound (MRgFUS) to correct tremors. The Sperling Medical Group offers MRgFUS for the treatment of ET.
Disclaimer: This blog is not intended as an endorsement for LiftWare or any specific assistive device.
i Pathak, A., Redmond, J. A., Allen, M. and Chou, K. L. (2014), A noninvasive handheld assistive device to accommodate essential tremor: A pilot study. Mov Disord., 29: 838–842. doi:10.1002/mds.25796