Focused ultrasounds treat tremors, giving patients a sense of normalcy

August 21, 2023 Providence Health Team

[3 min read] 

In this article: 

  • Focused ultrasounds are delivered through the brain to treat neurological disorders like essential tremors. 

  • Essential tremors cause uncontrollable shaking in the arms and hands, making it difficult for patients to complete everyday tasks like writing or eating. 

  • One patient, Bill Bezanson, has experienced several life-changing effects from the treatment, which he has measured through his spiral drawings. 

Focused ultrasound stops debilitating hand tremors 

What does it mean to be healthy?  

For Providence Swedish neurosurgeon Tony Wang, M.D., the answer is pretty straightforward. “I think it means being able to do the things you want to do in life without pain, disability or difficulty,” he says.  

But this definition of health hasn’t always been the reality for 76-year-old Bill Bezanson. A few years ago, Bezanson struggled to complete even the simple, daily tasks of life. After living with this discomfort and frustration for more than a year, he decided it was time to seek treatment.  

Now, thanks to Dr. Wang and the life-changing focused ultrasound treatment he received at Providence, Bezanson says he finally remembers what it feels like to be “healthy” again.  

Simple tasks turned difficult 

It all started with shakes in his hands.  

“They started to interfere with cooking. All of a sudden, I’d splash myself. I couldn’t eat soup, and I couldn’t eat cereal,” he says, “But it got worse. It got to the point where I couldn’t even use my right hand.” 

Bezanson was experiencing an essential tremor, a nervous system disorder that causes uncontrollable shaking. "[It] was taking over my life,” he recalls.  

Being right-handed, it was difficult for him not to use his dominant hand. Tasks like holding a glass of water, once simple to perform, had become an embarrassment.  

Success measured through a spiral 

Ultrasound has a long history in neurosurgery. However, it wasn’t until the early 2000s that there were developments in its physics that allowed physicians to deliver ultrasounds through the skull. This eliminated the need to remove portions of the skull through surgery and made ultrasound treatments attractive for patients like Bezanson, who were seeking a return to normalcy in their life.  

So how is the success of focused ultrasounds for essential tremors measured?  

It can be as easy as grabbing a pen and paper. Before treatment begins, patients are asked to draw a spiral.  

“A lot of these folks, when they start, they can’t even get the pen to the paper,” says Dr. Wang.  

But over time, their tremors are gradually minimized, and the drawings become smoother. This improvement shows that the neurosurgeons have reached the correct spot in the patient’s treatment. And it’s rewarding for the patients to see progress through their drawings, too. 

Treatments for life 

“I knew at that moment, the moment I drew that spiral correctly, that it was over with,” Bezanson says with a smile, “It’s an awfully good feeling.”  

Bezanson admires his most recent smooth spiral with pride, comparing it to the first one. “No shakes,” he proudly states. 

“It’s always great to check in with patients, and they are often excited to tell you what they’re now able to do,” says Dr. Wang, “I think that’s important.”  

These aren’t just treatments for tremors. They’re treatments to help improve a person’s quality of life. 

For neurosurgeons like Dr. Wang, being able to perform a procedure that has such an immense, positive effect on someone’s life is rewarding. 

He recalls the success stories of other patients: “There was a lady who had this procedure done, and she sent us the stitch work she’s now able to do. That was the best day I could hope for.”  

“Human again” 

Bezanson remembers hearing the dreaded words, “Can you sign your name for me?” and the feelings of humiliation that followed.  

“That’s something I was never able to do [before treatment],” he says. “I just feel appreciation for being able to write again. To sign checks again. I feel human again.” 

-- 

Contributing Caregiver 

Dr. Tony Wang is a neurosurgeon at Swedish Neurological Restoration and other Providence Swedish locations.  

Find a doctor 

Neurologists and neurosurgeons at Providence Swedish collaborate to provide advanced surgical treatments for a wide range of neurological conditions, such as essential tremor and Parkinson’s disease. To learn more about these conditions and treatment options available, visit the Providence Swedish Neuroscience Institute. You can also use our provider directory to find the doctor that’s right for you. 

Download the Providence App 

We’re with you, wherever you are. Make Providence’s app your personalized connection to your health. Schedule appointments, conduct virtual visits, message your doctor, view your health records and more. Learn more and download the app.  

Related resources 

Finding a solution deep in the brain 

Living well with Parkinson's disease

Q&A: Movement Disorders 

What should you know about the new FDA-approved drug for treatment of Alzheimer's disease?

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions. 

About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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