Focused ultrasounds treat tremors, restoring patients' quality of life

September 25, 2023 Swedish Neuroscience 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. 

Register for our special event to learn more about focused ultrasound

Join Swedish Neurosurgeon Dr. Tony Wang for a free online seminar to learn more about focused ultrasound, a non-surgical treatment for essential tremor. 

Date: Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023

Time: 3 - 4:30 pm

Register here.

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 Bill Bezanson. A few years ago, Bezanson, 76, was struggling to complete even simple tasks of daily tasks living. After more than a year of frustration and discomfort, Bezanson decided it was time to seek treatment.  

Now, after working with Dr. Wang, who performed life-changing focused ultrasound treatment at Providence Swedish, Bezanson says he finally remembers what it feels like to be healthy again.  

Simple tasks became difficult 

It all started with shakes in his hands.  

“[The tremors] started to interfere with cooking. All of a sudden, I’d splash myself. I couldn’t eat soup. 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.  

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. 

The spiral that measures success 

So how do we determine the effectiveness of focused ultrasounds for essential tremors?  

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.”  

Focused ultrasound treatments don't simply treat tremors; they help restore and 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 

Our experts at the Swedish Neuroscience Institute offer comprehensive, progressive diagnosis and treatment for a wide range of spine, brain and central nervous system conditions. Telehealth options are available. Visit us on the web or call 206-320-3940. You can also use our provider directory to find the doctor that’s right for you. 

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Additional resources

Understanding aphasia

Parkinson's Foundation designates Swedish's Movement Disorders Program as a Comprehensive Care Center

What women should know about strokes

Stroke: Symptoms, risk and other tips from a Swedish expert

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

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About the Author

From deep brain stimulation to focused ultrasound to pediatric neurology, The Swedish Neuroscience Team is recognized as national experts to help people address a wide array of neurological conditions. Our goal is to provide useful and helpful advice and tips on non-surgical and surgical options to treat any disease of the mind.

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