Micrographia, or small handwriting, is a common sign of Parkinson’s disease. Over 65 percent of patients exhibit micrographia.

Patients often notice the difference in their handwriting themselves and a neurologist can confirm the diagnosis by the size of the handwriting in a writing test. Software that measures the size, speed, fluency, and duration of writing is available to provide accurate measurement of writing characteristics.

Causes of micrographia

The basal ganglia, a structural network containing nerve cells located deep in the brain, regulates motor skills such as the movement and coordination of the arms and legs. Damage to the basal ganglia affects most motor functions, including writing.

Research has shown a strong correlation between micrographia and bradykinesia, another characteristic symptom of Parkinson’s disease. Slow movement, or bradykinesia, can affect the movement of arms and fingers, leading to writing difficulty. Tremors and muscle contractions reported in Parkinson’s disease can also lead to micrographia.

Types of micrographia

There are two common types of micrographia: constant or consistent micrographia and progressive micrographia.

In constant micrographia, the handwriting is consistently small within a sentence; in progressive micrographia, the patient’s handwriting gradually becomes smaller during writing.

According to research, constant micrographia is a direct result of the improper function of the basal ganglia. In progressive micrographia, connectivity in other parts of the brain, such as the cerebellum and cortex, is involved.

Management of micrographia

Micrographia manifests differently among patients; some may have time periods where micrographia may be more or less pronounced.

It is recommended that patients practice at least one page of writing every day. An occupational therapist can evaluate and suggest adjustments that can improve the patient’s writing ability. Some modifications include:

  • Use of a weighted pen with a rubber grip to overcome tremors and provide a better grasp;
  • A non-slip mat under the paper;
  • Paying attention to posture while writing;
  • Writing in big letters, as small movements are more difficult. Exaggerated writing with big strokes can be helpful;
  • Avoiding cursive writing and trying printing instead.

Relaxation and stretching exercises for the upper body can help relieve tension and improve writing.

It is important to note that exercise must only be performed in consultation with a physiotherapist or occupational therapist specializing in Parkinson’s disease. Occupational therapists may also recommend assistive devices that can help reduce shaking and improve handwriting.

Although there is no cure for micrographia, Parkinson’s disease treatments containing levodopa — a medication that helps the brain produce the neurotransmitter dopamine — has been shown to alleviate constant micrographia in some patients by improving the function of the basal ganglia.

Micrographia research

According to a recent study, handwriting training can also help alleviate micrographia and improve connectivity in the part of the brain that controls writing. The study evaluated the impact of visual cues-based writing training in patients with early-stage Parkinson’s disease.

There were 27 patients in the six-week study. They were randomly divided into two groups — one that received writing training and one that did not. Patients who did not receive writing training focused on general relaxation to reduce tension in the arms and shoulders.

The writing training focused on progressive exercises designed to maintain handwriting with the help of visual aids. Both groups received treatment five times a week for 30 minutes. The goal of the study was to improve writing ability by alleviating tension in the hands.

Writing assessment was performed before the start of treatment (baseline) and after six weeks. The test was administered inside and outside an MRI machine to evaluate changes in the brain during testing.

Researchers found that writing training significantly increased the size of patients’ handwriting. Moreover, MRIs showed improved connectivity in the areas of the brain responsible for vision and movement learning in those who received the training.

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Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Vijaya Iyer is a freelance science writer for BioNews Services. She has contributed content to their several disease-specific websites, including cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, among others. She holds a PhD in Microbiology from Kansas State University, where her research focused on molecular biology, bacterial interactions, metabolism, and animal models to study bacterial infections. Following the completion of her PhD, Dr. Iyer went on to complete three postdoctoral fellowships at Kansas State University, University of Miami and Temple University. She joined BioNews Services to utilize her scientific background and writing skills to help patients and caregivers remain abreast with important scientific breakthroughs.
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Ana holds a PhD in Immunology from the University of Lisbon and worked as a postdoctoral researcher at Instituto de Medicina Molecular (iMM) in Lisbon, Portugal. She graduated with a BSc in Genetics from the University of Newcastle and received a Masters in Biomolecular Archaeology from the University of Manchester, England. After leaving the lab to pursue a career in Science Communication, she served as the Director of Science Communication at iMM.
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Vijaya Iyer is a freelance science writer for BioNews Services. She has contributed content to their several disease-specific websites, including cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, among others. She holds a PhD in Microbiology from Kansas State University, where her research focused on molecular biology, bacterial interactions, metabolism, and animal models to study bacterial infections. Following the completion of her PhD, Dr. Iyer went on to complete three postdoctoral fellowships at Kansas State University, University of Miami and Temple University. She joined BioNews Services to utilize her scientific background and writing skills to help patients and caregivers remain abreast with important scientific breakthroughs.
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