Strap it on and stop the tremors. That’s the idea behind a wearable device designed for patients with essential tremor.
Jan Alm’s symptoms of the movement disorder started in 2019. At first, he was misdiagnosed with Parkinson’s, a disease commonly confused with essential tremor.
Dr. Kalea Colletta is a neurologist at Hines VA Hospital.
“In a patient with Parkinson’s, they will have a resting tremor, meaning it is a hand that is just resting in their lap … and is constantly shaking,” Colletta said. “As opposed to essential tremor which you commonly see when their hands are outstretched such as this or when they are about to do something.”
With his wife Violet by his side, 76-year-old Alm reached out to eight neurologists and struggled to tolerate the medications used to treat his disorder, before landing at Hines VA Hospital.
“It’s a privilege for me to serve them because they served us so well,” Colletta said.
Colletta has been working with veterans like Alm for 10 years.
“I was drafted in 1966 and served until 1968 in the Army,” Alm said.”I have a top-secret clearance and worked on a piece of equipment.”
Now, simply drawing a straight line is nearly impossible for Alm.
At the VA, Coletta introduced Alm to a wearable device. It costs about $5,000 but the tech designed to boost independence is completely covered for those who fought for our freedom.
“What we see is we’re able to give patients some of that freedom back. We’re able to give them some of their life back,” Coletta said.
Called Cala Taps, the therapy is an alternative to a more invasive procedure, deep-brain stimulation.
“In addition to medications, deep brain stimulation is another option but for a lot of patients that is not an option because of their other medical conditions, or they simply just don’t want surgery which is absolutely understandable,” Coletta said.
What looks like a smartwatch sends an electrical current along the median and radial nerves.
“And the stimulation travels up those nerves and links in the brain in a part called the thalamus,” Coletta said. “And the thalamus is where we know there are some tremor implications and where we can actually modulate activity and decrease those tremors.”
Alm can adjust the intensity of the current based on how much he’s shaking each day.
It takes about 40 minutes to fully steady his hand.
“It’s not comfortable but when you know the benefits, it’s worth it,” Alm said. “I’ll try anything to make things better and I was really astonished at how well it worked. …It’s very simple.”
It’s at home where users get the most benefit. Now Alm can easily sort through his stamp collection.
“They can use it five times a day if they need to,” Coletta said. “The good news is it lasts about an hour and a half to two hours so at least they get some good benefit in that time.”
And the tech comes in handy at lunchtime.
“I can actually go and make myself a sandwich,” Alm said. “I can put a knife in my right hand. I can slice Braunschweiger or I can make a sandwich I couldn’t do that before. It’s really made a huge difference.”
“Having that ability to get them these cutting-edge treatments that have such a wonderful impact on their life is truly amazing,” Coletta said.
Colletta says those who use the device regularly appear to have improvements in their underlying tremors, a pattern she’s noted in multiple patients.
Cala TAPS therapy may be covered by insurance. With a healthcare provider’s prescription, the VA will also provide Cala TAPS therapy at no cost to VA beneficiaries. Patients can learn more by calling (888) 699-1009 or emailing CustomerSuccess@CalaTrio.com