About 90,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) in the United States each year, a roughly 50% increase from previously estimated incidence rates, according to a recent study supported by the 2022 Parkinson’s Foundation .
“The increasing number of Parkinson’s disease cases will lead to more falls, more hip fractures and more people needing assisted living,” said Dr. Michael S. Okun, director of the Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases at UF Health in Gainesville, Fla., told Fox News Digital.
He is also a medical advisor to the Parkinson’s Foundation, a non-profit group based in Miami, but was not part of the study.
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The study estimated the prevalence of Parkinson’s in North America by analyzing a large group of diverse populations.
The research aims to provide a more precise estimate than previous studies, which estimated an incidence rate of 40,000-60,000 diagnoses per year.
“Previous estimates were based on a small number of cases from areas that are not representative of the nation as a whole,” according to the Parkinson Foundation’s website.
“The previous prevalence study, conducted 40 years ago, extrapolated the 26 people with PD in a rural county in Mississippi as the baseline estimate for PD prevalence in the US.”
“Men are more likely to have PD than women and the number of people diagnosed with PD increases with age.”
The site also says, “The new incidence rate is 1.5 times higher, with nearly 90,000 cases per year.”
More Parkinson’s disease statistics
Approximately one million people in the United States have Parkinson’s disease.
More than 10 million people worldwide live with the disease, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation.
PD is the second most common neurodegenerative disease in the United States, with Alzheimer’s disease no. 1.
The main risk factor for PD is age, with its incidence increasing among Americans 65 and older, the study found.
“The study confirms that men are more likely to have PD than women and that the number of people diagnosed with PD increases with age, regardless of sex,” according to the Parkinson Foundation’s website.
Parkinson’s is a movement disorder
Normally there are neurons, or nerve cells, in the brain that produce a chemical called dopamine, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation website.
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“The most prominent signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease occur when nerve cells in the basal ganglia, an area of the brain that controls movement, deteriorate and/or die,” according to the National Institute’s website of Aging.
Parkinson’s has four main symptoms: a tremor, muscle stiffness, slow movements and balance difficulties.
Parkinson’s has four main symptoms, including tremors, muscle stiffness, slow movements and balance difficulties, which often lead to falls.
One of the first signs of PD is a “pill tremor” that “feels like you’re trying to roll a pill or other small object between your thumb and index finger,” according to the Healthline website.
As Parkinson’s progresses, a classic sign is a “shuffling walk.”
That’s when a person begins to take smaller steps in a shuffling manner, Healthline added.
Some areas of the United States showed a “higher incidence” of PD
The prevalence of people diagnosed with PD differs in certain parts of the country, the study noted, but more research is needed to better understand this trend.
“A clustering of counties with a higher incidence of PD was observed in the juxtaposition of the Midwestern and Southern regions of the United States,” the authors said.
“Parkinson’s rates will continue to rise as the population grows and ages. However, these factors alone cannot explain the rapid increase in cases.”
The study also found “higher incidence areas” in southern California, southeastern Texas, central Pennsylvania and Florida.
Meanwhile, it found “areas of lower incidence” in the “Mountain West region, the western Midwest, and the far Northwest.”
Why is PD more common now?
“Parkinson’s rates will continue to rise as the population grows and ages. However, these factors alone cannot explain the rapid increase in cases,” Okun noted.
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This may explain the higher incidence found in parts of the country, however, where there is a larger population, such as Florida, where many older Americans retire.
The study also noted that exposure to environmental toxins may account for a higher incidence of PD in areas such as Rust Belt states, including Ohio and Pennsylvania, known for their heavy industrial materials.
“Scientists have been examining whether pesticides, environmental factors, diet and lifestyle are contributing to the rise in cases, as Parkinson’s recently took over as the #1 fastest-growing neurological disease Okun added.
The study also found a surprising protective factor: heavy smokers appear to have a lower risk of Parkinson’s.
The study noted that it is limited by its retrospective design, so it was prone to selection bias, miscoding and misclassification, and that more research is needed to better understand whether smoking itself carries a reduced risk.
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It also noted that the true incidence of PD may be higher between 2012 and 2022 due to a decrease in the prevalence of “presumed” protective factors such as smoking and an increase in the prevalence of risk factors.
The economic burdens of the PD
Parkinson’s disease costs patients, families and the US government approximately $51.9 billion each year, according to a 2019 study published by the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
About a little less than half of this economic burden is attributable to direct medical costs, while a little more than half is related to non-medical costs such as absenteeism, lost wages, early time and caretaker
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“Economically, these conditions will create a devastating outcome for the health care system, as Medicare and other payers will not be able to keep up with the billions of dollars in spending,” Okun told Fox News Digital.
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“Our rate of spending on Parkinson’s disease research is 10 times less than what will be needed to accelerate the trajectory for more effective disease-modifying therapies,” he added.
“Time for a Warp Speed Operation for Parkinson’s.”