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What is Micrographia?

By D. Jeffress
Updated May 17, 2024
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Micrographia is a term that refers to handwriting that becomes progressively smaller and harder to read. It is considered a medical condition that arises because of damage to the basal ganglia in the brain, the area that controls fine motor movements. Micrographia is a very common symptom in individuals with Parkinson's disease. With rehabilitation training and ongoing medical treatment for Parkinson's disease, people may be able to lessen their handwriting difficulties and other problems that result from insufficient motor functioning.

Parkinson's disease primarily affects motor movement, and can result in a loss of dexterity with both gross and fine muscle skills. Micrographia is often a prominent symptom in Parkinson's disease patients, as their brains lose the ability to coordinate and maintain the motions necessary to write. Neural connections in the basal ganglia and other parts of the brain become disrupted and symptoms tend to become progressively worse over time with Parkinson's disease.

In most instances of micrographia, a person will begin writing in a normal style and size, and maintaining a horizontal line. As he or she continues writing, however, words and letters tend to become smaller, cramped together, and difficult to read. An individual may not be able to keep their handwriting in a straight line. Sentences may diverge diagonally upwards or downwards on a page, and words may begin to curl around each other as the writing becomes smaller and smaller, to the point where they cannot be deciphered even by the person writing them.

Micrographia and other motor difficulties related to Parkinson's disease can be very frustrating and eventually become debilitating. Unfortunately, Parkinson's disease cannot be cured, though individuals can often reduce some of their symptoms by taking prescription medications and engaging in physical therapy. Most medications work by increasing dopamine levels in the brain, neurotransmitters that are essential in stabilizing neural functioning and motor movement. Regular physical therapy sessions allow individuals to increase their muscle strength and train their bodies to better deal with difficulties manipulating handheld instruments, such as pens and pencils.

Many people are able to improve their handwriting by practicing diligently. They can use wide-ruled paper and concentrate on staying within printed lines. With the aid of medications to control tremors, individuals who have enough willpower and neural functioning to focus on their activities can overcome micrographia symptoms and write legibly. Support from friends, family members, doctors, and physical therapists can help give individuals with Parkinson's disease the confidence they need to keep trying.

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Discussion Comments
By shell4life — On Sep 17, 2011

A lady in my church has Parkinson’s disease, and her head shakes all the time. If she doesn’t hold onto her hands, they flail around everywhere. I know that she can no longer write, but she was able to use a pen for years after her diagnosis.

She takes drugs for her condition, which is sadly progressing. She told me that she had always been a nervous person, so she didn’t really notice the increase in shaking at first. She did, however, notice the micrographia.

She told me how frustrated she was that she could no longer write down legible recipes or entries in her journal. She tried practicing at it, but her handwriting only seemed to worsen.

By cloudel — On Sep 17, 2011

One year, I could only read the first part of a letter my mother wrote me. The rest of it was illegible, because the letters shrank and cramped up on top of each other.

I was worried that she had experienced a stroke while writing it. I called her right away and she said she was fine. When I told her about the letter, she said she hadn’t even noticed. She agreed to go to her doctor.

He diagnosed her with Parkinson’s disease and recommended she begin therapy right away. One of the things her therapist helped her with was her handwriting. She would watch my grandmother while she wrote, and when the letters started to become cramped, she pointed it out, so my grandmother could start over.

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