Demoralization in essential tremor: prevalence, clinical correlates, and dissociation from tremor severity

CNS Spectr. 2020 Feb;25(1):16-23. doi: 10.1017/S1092852918001633.


Objective: Essential tremor (ET) is associated with psychological difficulties, including anxiety and depression. Demoralization (feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, inability to cope), another manifestation of psychological distress, has yet to be investigated in ET. Our objectives are to (1) estimate the prevalence of demoralization in ET, (2) assess its clinical correlates, and (3) determine whether demoralization correlates with tremor severity.

Methods: We administered the Kissane Demoralization Scale (KDS-II) and several psychosocial evaluations (ie, scales assessing subjective incompetence, resilience, and depression [eg, Geriatric Depression Scale]) to 60 ET subjects. Tremor was assessed with a disability score and total tremor score. KDS-II >8 indicated demoralization.

Results: Among 60 ET subjects (mean age = 70.2 ± 6.8 years), the prevalence of demoralization was 13.3%, 95% confidence interval = 6.9-24.2%. Although there was overlap between demoralization and depression (10% of the sample meeting criteria for both), 54% of depressed subjects were not demoralized, and 25% of demoralized subjects were not depressed. Demoralization correlated with psychological factors, but demoralized subjects did not have significantly higher total tremor scores, tremor disability scores, or years with tremor.

Conclusions: Demoralization has a prevalence of 13.3% in ET, similar to that in other chronic or terminal illnesses (eg, cancer 13-18%, Parkinson's disease 18.1%, coronary heart disease 20%). Demoralization was not a function of increased tremor severity, suggesting that it is a separable construct, which could dictate how a patient copes with his/her disease. These data further our understanding of the psychological and psychosocial correlates of ET.

Keywords: Demoralization; depression; essential tremor; movement disorders; resilience; tremor severity.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Demoralization*
  • Essential Tremor / pathology
  • Essential Tremor / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Severity of Illness Index