Ataxic Gait in Essential Tremor: A Disease-associated Feature?

  • Ashwini K. Rao
  • Elan D. Louis

Abstract

Background: While accumulating evidence suggests that balance and gait impairments are commonly seen in patients with essential tremor (ET), questions remain regarding their prevalence, their relationship with normal aging, whether they are similar to the impairments seen in spinocerebellar ataxias, their functional consequences, and whether some ET patients carry greater susceptibility.

Methods: We conducted a literature search (until December 2018) on this topic.

Results: We identified 23 articles on gait or balance impairments in ET. The prevalence of balance impairment (missteps on tandem walk test) was seven times higher in ET patients than controls. Gait impairments in ET included reduced speed, increased asymmetry, and impaired dynamic balance. While balance and gait problems worsened with age, ET patients were more impaired than controls, independent of age. The pattern of impairments seen in ET was qualitatively similar to that seen in spinocerebellar ataxias. Balance and gait impairments resulted in greater number of near falls in ET patients. Factors associated with balance and gait impairments in ET included age, presence of tremor in midline structures, and cognitive dysfunction.

Discussion: Accumulating evidence suggests that balance and gait impairments are common in ET patients and occur to a greater extent in controls. Thus, they represent a disease-associated feature. These impairments, which are qualitatively similar to those seen in spinocerebellar ataxias, are not merely subclinical but result in difficulty performing functional tasks and increase falls risk. A subset of patients is more susceptible to balance and gait impairments. The full spectrum of impairments remains to be characterized.

Keywords: Essential tremor, mobility, gait, balance, posture, ataxia

Citation: Rao AK, Louis ED. Ataxic Gait in Essential Tremor: A Disease-Associated Feature?. Tremor Other Hyperkinet Mov. 2019; 9. doi: 10.7916/d8-28jq-8t52