What Causes Old People to Shake?

Many older people experience shakiness or tremors that get worse with age. If the question why old people shake is lingering in your mind and you think it is because of changes in the body’s physiological functions or changes caused by medicines, you have a point. But there are other reasons why old people have these tremors. These include dysfunctions in the brain and nervous system. In most cases, tests are necessary to ascertain the exact cause of the tremors.

Why Do Old People Shake and How to Treat?

1. Physiologic Tremor

Physiological tremor is a normal kind of shakiness that affects most people. It is involuntary shaking of the muscles or limbs caused by physical or physiological processes. In a typical situation, the tremors represent the normal rhythmical control of muscles by the central nervous system.


  • Slight tremors on the hands. The shaking can also occur in the arms and other muscle groups.
  • Tremor when pointing at a particular object. This kind of shaking usually has specific movements that a doctor can easily recognize.

Enhanced Physiologic Tremor

These rhythmical movements are multiplied in old age. The condition is known as enhanced physiological tremor, and it is caused by:

  • Stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Fatigue and sleep deprivation
  • Certain medicines


Treatment of physiological tremors will depend mostly on the underlying cause of the tremor which is established by a medical practitioner.

2. Drug-Induced Tremors

Drugs that affect the central nervous system usually cause shakiness as described above.


Medications that cause such symptoms include:

  • Prescription drugs – Mood disorder drugs such as lithium and antipsychotic drugs
  • Antidepressants
  • Corticosteroids
  • Asthma medication
  • Side-effects from overusing drugs that repress the central nervous system
  • Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol and nicotine
  • Drugs such as cocaine which can permanently damage the CNS and cause the tremors


The best way to treat drug-induced tremors in old people is to reduce the dosage of the specific medicines that cause the condition. If the tremor is as a result of drug abuse, then a treatment program to address substance abuse is required.

3. Systemic Disease-Induced Tremors

Some diseases in the older adults affect the peripheral nervous system and the brain. This causes tremors and shaking. These conditions also cause enhanced tremors.


  • Hypoglycemia and diabetes
  • Metal poisoning such as lead or mercury
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Overactive parathyroid gland


  • Physical therapy to help the older adult to coordinate their limbs much better
  • Treatment of the medical problem causing the shakiness

4. Essential Tremor

This is another answer to the question "Why do old people shake?" Essential tremor is pathologic shaking that affects many people over the age of 40 years. The apparent cause of the tremor is unknown, but in some, it has been found to be genetic. Essential tremors can be confused with Parkinson’s disease. The main difference between the two is that the former is a lot less limiting than the latter.


  • Tremors in the hands can spread to the head and voice.
  • Tremors can be seen when the arms are outstretched or when pointing or nodding.
  • The symptoms can gradually develop and affect daily routine chores such as knitting, writing and even eating.


Treatment of essential tremor is not a must if the symptoms are not bothersome. In cases where treatment is needed, the following is recommended:

  • Tranquilizers such as Xanax
  • Anti-seizure medicine
  • High blood pressure medicine
  • Deep brain stimulation (DPS) of the thalamus with electrodes

5. Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson’s disease is another answer to the question "Why do old people shake?" It is a lot less common than essential tremors, but the effects can be debilitating if left unchecked. Young people also risk contracting this condition through genetic inheritance.


  • The tremor starts when the affected body part is at rest.
  • Body is stiff with a posture that is stooped.
  • Walk with a shuffle.
  • Symptoms usually start on the hands before spreading to other parts of the body.
  • The disease occurs mainly in senior people aged 60 and above.

It is caused by degeneration and death of cells in a certain part of the brain.


The dopamine drug, Levodopa, is the preferred treatment for PD. Other treatments include drugs that increase dopamine in the brain.

6. Cerebellar Tremor

This tremor is associated with the cerebellum, that is, the part of the brain that is responsible for balance and coordination. Diseases that affect this part of the brain are responsible for cerebellar tremors and are among the reasons why old people shake. Most common causes are a brain injury, stroke, and multiple sclerosis. Others include alcoholism, inherited degenerative disorders, and overuse of certain drugs.


  • Symptoms are visible at the point of an end of a movement, for instance, holding a plate – this is an intention tremor because it appears at the end of a movement.
  • A person will be unable to perform alternated movements rapidly. For instance, it will be difficult for a person to alternate between touching their ear and their nose.
  • There is difficulty in walking and maintaining balance.
  • Symptoms can be displayed on one side of the body that has been affected or both if both sides of the brain have been affected.


  • Physical and occupational therapy help a patient to be able to coordinate their movement.

Other Reasons "Why Do Old People Shake?"

  • Orthostatic tremor - This is a tremor that occurs when a person stands. The balance is shaken and the legs become unsteady. This is treated by dopamine drugs.
  • Psychogenic tremor - It is caused by a psychological problem. It worsens when the patient is aware and pays attention to it, and the shakiness stops when a person’s mind is on something else.

Serious Symptoms That Indicate a Life-Threatening Condition

Sometimes, tremors are warning signals for life-threatening situations; call 911 immediately if you notice any of the following:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Difficulty in speaking or slurred speech
  • Loss of conscience and disorientation
  • Loss of vision or blurred vision
  • Paralysis
  • Involuntary rolling of the eyes in rapid movement
  • Tremor in one side of the body
  • Weakness
  • Head injury
  • Loss of balance

Ask for help immediately when sudden tremors start in an older adult.

Some Ways to Help

Lifestyle changes are among the approaches that doctors recommend for individuals who are dealing with different kinds of tremors. Some ways to help include:

  • Wrist weights - help you to control your arms
  • Use of specially designed utensils, writing material and tools to help strengthen the grip
  • Using heavier objects which are easier to handle for people with tremors
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