Since her epilepsy began causing hand tremors a year and a half ago, Mary Johnson had to find new ways to teach handwriting to her fourth grade students.
"It was much harder for me to demonstrate," said the 57-year-old Johnson from her classroom at Twin Oaks Elementary. "It was 'Look in your book and trace the letter.' Now I can do it."
For the past six weeks, Johnson has used a pair of weighted gloves designed by a Baton Rouge occupational therapist that reduce the tremors enough that she can again execute neat, legible sentences and work math problems on the dry erase board at the front of her classroom.
The Readi-Steadi Anti-Tremor Orthotic Glove system, invented by Krista Madere, weighs about the same as boxing gloves with weights strategically placed on muscles to inhibit shaking.
"At first it was a little awkward because it made me a little clumsy, but now I've gotten used to it," said Johnson, who wears the gloves about 16 hours a day.
The gloves reduce tremors by an average of 50 percent, said Madere, who works as an occupational therapist at Baton Rouge's The NeuroMedical Center.
"You can instantly see the reduction, but some tasks take practice, like handwriting," Madere said.
When she created the steadying glove system in 2015, Madere was helping a patient with Parkinson's disease, a condition that affects neurons in the brain and causes shaking and slow movements. The incurable disease affects about 1 million Americans, according to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation, but Madere realized that the gloves could also aid the estimated 10 million Americans who live with essential tremors, which causes shaking of the hands, head or voice, according to the International Essential Tremor Foundation.
Madere calls her invention a "conservative tool" because it is less drastic than other treatments such as deep brain stimulation surgery or medication that can cause drowsiness.
She developed the first prototype two years ago after noticing that some patients' tremors were reduced when she lightly pressed on their hands and wrists, placing what she calls "fingertip inhibition cues" on their muscles.
"I wanted to create something that would simulate my hands that they could go home with," Madere said.
She crafted the first set of gloves using molded plastic similar to the material for a splint and placed weights inside — first trying batteries and then sinkers made for fishing lures. She placed the weights on the muscles that were overactive and causing the tremors.
Since then Madere has designed gloves for more than 200 patients, and she has improved the design, using compression fabric and inserting small round weights to create a glove that is "low profile enough that it's not aesthetically weird," Madere said.
"It's still a small amount of weight so that it's not obnoxious," she said. "It's just to trick the brain to give a little bit of inhibition."
The gloves start at $300, Madere said. While Madere has personally fit each patient using the Readi-Steadi system, she is now selling the gloves online and analyzing patients using a video chat service at readi-steadi.com. Recently a local rehabilitation hospital also started fitting patients with the Readi-Steadi system.
Even though her epilepsy diagnosis has made her teaching career difficult, Madere isn't giving up, and so far her gloves are helping.
"I like teaching," she said. "One way or another I feel like I’ve been teaching all my life, whether it was Girl Scouts or church. Now it’s just I’m getting paid for it."