Some 90,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) in the United States each year — which is roughly a 50% increase from previous estimated incidence rates, according to a recent 2022 Parkinson’s Foundation-backed study.
“The soaring numbers of Parkinson’s disease cases will lead to more falls, more hip fractures and more people requiring assisted living,” Dr. Michael S. Okun, director of the Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases at UF Health in Gainesville, Florida, told Fox News Digital.
He’s also a medical adviser to the Parkinson’s Foundation, a nonprofit group based in Miami, but was not part of the study.
The study estimated the prevalence of Parkinson’s in North America by analyzing a large group of diverse populations.
The research aimed to provide a more accurate estimate than previous studies, which estimated an incidence rate of 40,000-60,000 diagnoses annually.
“Prior 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’s Foundation’s website.
“The previous prevalence study, conducted 40 years ago, extrapolated the 26 people with PD in a rural Mississippi county as a benchmark estimate for PD prevalence in the U.S.”
“Men are more likely to have PD than women and the number of those diagnosed with PD increases with age.”
The site also says, “The new incidence rate is 1.5 times higher, at nearly 90,000 cases annually.”
More Parkinson’s disease statistics
Approximately one million people in the U.S. have Parkinson’s disease.
More than 10 million people globally are living 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 being no. 1.
The primary risk for PD is age — with its incidence increasing among Americans 65 and older, according to the study.
“The study confirms that men are more likely to have PD than women and that the number of those diagnosed with PD increases with age, regardless of sex,” according to the Parkinson’s Foundation website.
Parkinson’s is a movement disorder
There are normally neurons, or nerve cells, in the brain that produce a chemical called dopamine, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation’s website.
“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, become impaired and/or die,” per the National Institute of Aging’s website.
Parkinson’s has four main symptoms — including a tremor, muscle stiffness, slow movements and balance difficulties.
Parkinson’s has four main symptoms, including a tremor, muscle stiffness, slow movements and balance difficulties — often leading to falls.
One of the earliest signs of PD is a “pill rolling tremor” that “looks like you are trying to roll a pill or another small object between your thumb and index finger,” per the Healthline website.
As Parkinson’s progresses, a classic sign is a “shuffling gait.”
That’s when a person starts to take smaller steps in a shuffling manner, Healthline added.
Some areas of US showed ‘higher incidence’ of PD
The prevalence of people diagnosed with PD differs in certain parts of the country, the study noted — but that more research is needed to better understand this trend.
“A clustering of counties with a higher incidence of PD was observed at the juxtaposition of the Midwestern and Southern regions of the United States,” the authors said.
“Parkinson’s rates will continue to increase as the population grows and ages. However, these factors alone cannot explain the rapid rise in cases.”
The study found “higher incidence areas” also in southern California, southeastern Texas, central Pennsylvania, and Florida.
Meanwhile, it found “lower incidence areas” in the “Mountain West region, the western Midwest, and the far Northwest.”
Why is PD more common now?
“Parkinson’s rates will continue to increase as the population grows and ages. However, these factors alone cannot explain the rapid rise in cases,” Okun noted.
This may explain the higher incidence it found in parts of the country, however, where there is an older population, such as Florida, where many older Americans retire.
The study also noted exposure to environmental toxins may explain an increased incidence of PD in areas such as the Rust Belt states, including Ohio and Pennsylvania, which are known for their heavy industrial materials.
“Scientists have been examining whether pesticides, environmental factors, diet and lifestyle all are contributing to the growing cases, as recently Parkinson’s took over the no. 1 spot for the most rapidly growing neurological disease,” Okun added.
The study also found a surprising protective factor: Heavy smokers appear to have less 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 if smoking itself leads to a reduced risk.
“It’s time for an Operation Warp Speed for Parkinson’s.”
It also noted the true PD incidence may be higher from 2012 to 2022 due to a decreased prevalence of “alleged” protective factors such as smoking and the increased prevalence of risk factors.
The economic burdens of PD
Parkinson’s disease costs patients, families and the U. S. government approximately $51.9 billion every year, according to a 2019 study published by The Michael J. Fox Foundation.
Roughly slightly less than half of this economic burden is attributable to direct medical costs, while slightly more than half is related to non-medical costs, such as missed work, lost wages, early and caregiver time.
“Economically, these conditions will drive 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 expenses,” Okun told Fox News Digital.
“Our rate of spending on Parkinson’s disease research is 10-fold less than what will be required to speed up the trajectory for more effective disease modifying therapies,” he added.
“It’s time for an Operation Warp Speed for Parkinson’s.”