Essential tremor sufferer welcomes calm moments - Your West Valley News: Topstory

Essential tremor sufferer welcomes calm moments

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Posted: Tuesday, April 3, 2012 12:45 pm

Bob Kortright often struggles with the simplest of tasks, such as carrying a hot cup of coffee around his Sun City home or inserting a key into a car door.

“I’m dangerous with a screwdriver,” the 89-year-old Kortright said with a laugh.

He suffers from essential tremor, a neurological disorder that causes hands, heads and voices to shake.

Based on information from the International Essential Tremor Foundation, there are few effective prescription medications available for treating ET.

At best, persons with essential tremor often feel frustrated or embarrassed with their condition. In worst-case scenarios, the condition becomes a full-fledged disability.

Banner Sun Health Research Institute will host a one-day conference on essential tremor Wednesday. The session will run from 10 a.m. to noon in Memorial Hall in Banner Boswell Medical Center, 13180 N. 103rd Drive, Sun City.

Experts in the field will provide an overview of the disorder as well as provide updates on medications and surgical treatments such as deep brain stimulation. There also will be a segment on fall prevention.

Kortright said he feels fortunate because he long ago admitted he had essential tremor. Five years ago, he joined a support group to surround himself with others in a similar situation.

“People don’t want to admit it’s a problem,” he said.

The biggest obstacles often occur when Kortright goes out in public. The shaking inherent with his condition can often draw uncomfortable stares.

No place is more challenging than going out to dinner.

“My eating and table manners are terrible,” said Kortright, an Oregon native who grew up in New Jersey. “When I’m out with strangers, I will apologize up front for my table manners.

“I found that it helps. If you keep it in, it adds to the tension and only makes it worse.”

Kortright said he is constantly amazed at the kindness and helpfulness of strangers.

He described a recent trip to the gas station.

As he struggled to put his debit card into the appropriate slot, a stranger approached and provided assistance.

“That happens time and again,” said Kortright, a retired food processing manager for Land O’Lakes. “I go to an investment meeting and they serve me coffee because pouring is not that easy.”

At home, Kortright relies on his wife, Irene, who does all the household chores because of her husband’s condition.

“Having a great support person like Irene is very important,” he said. “When it comes to domestic duties, my mind is willing, but my body can’t do it.”

Essential tremor has forced Kortright to quit golf. He used to play three times a week.

“I still have my golf clubs, but this condition doesn’t get better,” Kortright said. “I’ve asked my son to play a round with me because I’m ashamed to play with someone else. I’m an obstacle on the course.”

Paul Leitch, president of Sun Cities Essential Tremors support group, said his 40-member organization offers camaraderie as well as an exchange of ideas for ET sufferers.

Members even use self-deprecating humor to describe their disorder, calling themselves the “Movers and Shakers.”

“We try to have different programs at our meetings,” said Leitch, a Sun City West resident. “We’ve had neurologists and pharmacists speak as well as experts in tai-chi.”

Kortright has discovered any activity that promotes calmness helps ease his condition.

With that in mind, he began participating in chair yoga, a gentle form of yoga practiced while sitting in a chair.

“I don’t know that I buy into all the talk about tranquility, but it’s good exercise and it has improved my flexibility,” Kortright said.

Yoga instructor Gail Butchart concurred with her student’s assessment.

“He could hardly walk when he first started,” she said. “Now, he can stand up with ease and has greater mobility.”

For Kortright, another activity that helps promote calmness is a nightly cocktail.

“I tell Irene I need my medicine and she brings me my martini,” he said. “I have one at cocktail time and that’s when I pay bills. After that martini, I can hold still enough to write a check and sign my name.”

For information on the Sun Cities Essential Tremors support group, call 623-975-9638 or send an email to

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