Are we facing a Parkinson’s pandemic?

According to one new study paper, evidence is emerging that Parkinson’s disease is becoming a pandemic. The authors discuss their concerns and the challenges ahead.

Older adult city in background
Parkinson’s is on the rise, but can we slow its march?

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition.

Primarily affecting the motor regions of the central nervous system, symptoms tend to develop slowly.

Over time, even simple movements become difficult; and, as the disease progresses, dementia is common.

Historically, Parkinson’s was rare. In 1855, for instance, just 22 people living in the United Kingdom died with Parkinson’s disease.

Today, in the United States, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimate that about half a million people are living with the disease.

Recently, a group of experts from the field of movement disorders published an article in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease. Titled “The emerging evidence of the Parkinson’s pandemic,” the authors outline their growing concerns and what might be done.

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For instance, it is a global concern that is present in every region of the planet. It is also becoming more prevalent in all regions that scientists have assessed. Additionally, pandemics tend to move geographically. In the case of Parkinson’s disease, it seems to be moving from West to East as demographics slowly change.

Some researchers also believe that although people cannot “catch” noncommunicable conditions such as diabetes through contact with pathogens, they may still be pandemics. They explain that these conditions are still communicable via new types of vectors — namely, social, political, and economic trends.

In the case of diabetes, for instance, one author argues that we are transmitting risk factors across the world. Such factors include “ultraprocessed food and drink, alcohol, tobacco products, and wider social and environmental changes that limit physical activity.”

Increasing risk

Because Parkinson’s primarily affects people as they grow older, the steady increase in humanity’s average age means an inevitable increase in the prevalence of Parkinson’s. This slow lift in our average age is not the only factor playing into the hands of a potential epidemic.

Some studies show that, even when analysis accounts for increasing age, Parkinson’s disease still seems to be becoming more prevalent.

This means that the average older adult today has an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

The study authors outline some of the factors that appear to be increasing the risk of Parkinson’s disease today.

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