Out-of-control shake 'stops you living'
While sometimes all he can do is laugh, there are other times when his uncontrollable shaking makes Bob McFarlane break down and cry.
The 85-year-old Marton man has suffered from essential tremors for the past 30 years.
Essential tremor (ET), which affects about 4 per cent of New Zealanders, is a progressive, neurological, hereditary disorder that causes significant shaking, particularly in the hands and arms when physical effort is exerted. Mr McFarlane's late mother suffered from ET and two sisters also have the ailment.
The disorder forced him to give up the physical aspects of farming, which he loved, and he now depends on others to help him eat his breakfast.
"Nobody knows about it and when you try and explain they don't understand how it stops you living," he said.
Mr McFarlane said tremor was the wrong name for it.
"It's a shake, a full shake that you have no control over."
Research has found alcohol is one of the only ways to treat the symptoms, and work is under way to develop an alcohol substitute.
Mr McFarlane said he would not allow himself a glass of wine to relieve the shaking until after lunchtime.
As a relaxant, alcohol allows ET sufferers slight relief when they are performing small tasks.
Mr McFarlane has recently found comfort in a small group of people who have started a support group in the region.
While only one other person at the Essential Tremors Support Group suffers from the same type of shakes as Mr McFarlane, about six people in the Manawatu region, who suffer tremors in one form or another, have formed a tight bond.
Mr McFarlane has home help for an hour every morning.
His daughter, Mary Procter, is also on hand to help him, because writing and brushing his teeth are now a test of perseverance, and he can only drink out of a straw.
Mrs Procter said there were times when some of the situations her dad found himself in were quite comical.
"We do laugh, because that's often all we can do," she said.
She said watching the tremors affect her father was hard, because he could often not go out for fear of embarrassing himself by spilling a drink, or smashing a glass.
Big jobs that require large muscle movements are easier. Mr McFarlane can still mow the lawns and chop wood, as well as drive a car safely.
New Zealand Essential Tremor Support is having its next meeting in Palmerston North on March 3, 10am-noon at Te Aroha Noa Community Services, Brentwood Ave.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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