Parkinson’s disease stunner: U.S. cases 50% higher than previous estimates claim

NEW YORK — Parkinson’s disease may be more common than most people think. A concerning new study has found that annual cases of the disease are 50 percent higher than previous estimates reported.

Researchers working with the Parkinson’s Foundation and The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research say current estimates had the number at 60,000 annual diagnoses. However, the new findings reveal that roughly 90,000 Americans develop Parkinson’s every year.

At that rate, study authors say 930,000 were living with Parkinson’s in 2020. This number will grow to 1.2 million by 2030.

“These updated estimates of incidence are necessary for understanding disease risk, planning health care delivery, and addressing care disparities,” says James Beck, PhD, co-author of the study and chief scientific officer at the Parkinson’s Foundation, in a media release. “Knowing this information will allow us to better serve people with Parkinson’s and their families and plan for adequate health care services in the future.”

Who’s at the highest risk for Parkinson’s?

Parkinson’s disease is the second-most prevalent neurodegenerative disease in the United States, behind only Alzheimer’s disease. It’s also the 14th-leading cause of death among Americans.

Patients typically experience a progressive loss of motor control, often developing tremors in their hands and arms and a lack of facial expressions. Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s, even though research continues to look for ways of both detecting and preventing the condition.

The new study found that Parkinson’s incidence was higher among people who were 65 and older than previous estimates had been reporting. Men of all ages were more likely to develop the disease than women.

Additionally, disease incidence rates were higher among Americans living in the “Rust Belt,” Southern California, Southeastern Texas, Central Pennsylvania, and Florida. The “Rust Belt” refers to parts of the northeastern and midwestern U.S. that have a history of heavy industrial manufacturing.

Parkinson’s estimates have been severely undercounting cases

Researchers note that smaller studies have said there are even fewer annual diagnoses each year, putting the number closer to 40,000. This new report looked at five epidemiological cohorts in order to find the number of Americans diagnosed in 2012. The new estimate of 90,000 new cases a year would more than double that previous figure.

Researchers say the biggest risk factor for Parkinson’s is old age, which is concerning since more and more Americans are living longer than past generations.

“Unique to this study, we found that PD incidence estimates have varied for many reasons, including how cases are identified and the geographic location of the study,” says lead author Allison Willis, MD, associate professor of Neurology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

“The persistence of the Parkinson’s disease belt in the U.S. might be due to population, health care or environmental factors. Understanding the source of these variations will be important for health care policy, research and care planning.”

This study was supported by the Parkinson’s Foundation and The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF), as well as the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES).

“The growth in those diagnosed and living with PD underscores the need to invest in more research toward better treatments, a cure, and one day, prevention,” adds Brian Fiske, PhD, co-author of the study and chief scientific officer at MJFF. “It’s also a clear call to lawmakers to implement policies that will lessen the burden of Parkinson’s disease on American families and programs like Medicare and Social Security.”

The findings are published in the scientific journal npj Parkinson’s Disease.

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