Head nodding in the elderly

Head nodding in the elderly

What is nodding head in the elderly? Head nodding in the elderly is an unintentional rhythmic movement of the head that occurs when the head is held upright unsupported. This head nod can be a yes or no shake or a combination of both. People who suffer from head nodding may also experience a trembling voice or shaking hands. They often have family members with similar complaints. Head nodding is usually the expression of a so-called ‘essential tremor’. The term essential means that the cause is not known.

Symptoms of head nodding in the elderly

Head nodding is an ailment that will not escape the wearer and occurs mainly when sitting, walking or standing. The nodding disappears when the head is supported. It often increases with tension and fatigue.

How do head nods develop in the elderly?

Exactly how head nods occur is still unknown. Scientists think that in half of cases head nodding is hereditary.

Is it serious and what can you expect?

Head nodding is a nuisance, but is generally not a sign of a serious condition. People with this ailment are often ashamed of it. It also increases when the wearer is nervous, making the nervousness visible to others. Shame can cause people to withdraw from contact with others. They can sometimes even end up in isolation. People with head shaking sometimes fear that they have Parkinson’s disease, but head nodding usually does not occur with this disease. In addition, Parkinson’s is associated with other symptoms such as muscle stiffness, difficulty walking and writing problems. Head shaking can also occur with a spasm of the neck muscles: so-called dystonia, also called torticollis spasmodica.

When to go to the doctor?

If you are experiencing head shaking that is a nuisance or if you are concerned about it, you should discuss it with your doctor. By asking questions and performing a physical examination, your doctor can determine the cause of the head shaking. In some cases, your doctor may also prescribe medication (often a beta-blocker) to reduce head shaking. These resources can also be used incidentally, for example on special occasions such as receptions and ceremonies.

What can you do about it yourself?

There is little you can do about shaking your head. Sometimes the shaking subsides after an alcoholic consumption, but this form of self-medication can of course only be applied on a very modest scale. Relaxation reduces the complaint; sufficient rest is therefore important.

General advice and precautions

If you suffer from head shaking, try to accept it, no matter how difficult it may be. Understanding and support from others can help with this.

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