Innovative research suggests that the number of people with Parkinson's disease will imminently increase to pandemic proportions, with cases of the disease more than doubling in just 25 years. There are currently an estimated 6.9 million people, worldwide, living with Parkinson's disease. By 2040, this number is predicted to surge to 14.2 million.
Research published in the journal JAMA Neurology, “The Parkinson Pandemic—A Call to Action”, suggests Parkinson’s disease is now the world's fastest growing neurological disorder - ahead of dementia - and shows no signs of slowing. The study looked at the prevalence of diseases like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, stroke, epilepsy, meningitis, encephalitis and multiple sclerosis. University of Rochester Medical Center Neurologist Ray Dorsey, M.D. and Bastiaan Bloem, M.D., Ph.D., with Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands, argue that the medical community must respond to this impending public health threat.
Ray Dorsey, states:
“Pandemics are usually equated with infectious diseases like Zika, influenza, and HIV. But neurological disorders are now the leading cause of disability in the world and the fastest growing is Parkinson’s disease.”
Foundations for the growing pandemic in Parkinson's disease
The researchers established that between 1990 and 2015, the rate of Parkinson’s more than doubled around the world. This growing pandemic is due to under-reporting, misdiagnosis and increasing life expectancy.
Bastiaan Bloem explains,
“This upcoming increase in the number of Parkinson patients is striking and frankly worrisome…We feel it is urgent that people with Parkinson’s go to the pharmaceutical industry and policymakers alike, demanding immediate action to fight this enormous threat.”
Todd Sherer, Chief Executive Officer of The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s research, adds:
"Too many people have Parkinson’s today and more will face diagnosis tomorrow. We all — government, patient organisations, researchers, doctors and patients — must work together for better care for those living with this disease and research toward a future without Parkinson’s.”
What is Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson’s disease, is a neurological condition in which parts of the brain become gradually damaged over time, impairing motor skills. Three common symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are involuntary shaking of specific parts of the body, sluggish movement, and stiff and inflexible muscles. However a vast range of other physical and psychological symptoms can be present including: depression, balance problems causing dizziness, insomnia and memory problems.
Combating this growing pandemic
The report suggests that the medical community should implement the same approaches that, in over 15 years, converted HIV from an unknown and fatal illness, into a treatable chronic condition.
"People with HIV infection simply demanded better treatments and successfully rallied for both awareness and new treatments, literally chaining themselves to the doors of pharmaceutical companies," expressed Bloem.
The authors heavily suggest that the Parkinson's community must develop a greater understanding of environmental, genetic, and behavioural causes and risk factors to help prevent the onset of Parkinson’s disease. They highlight that an estimated 40 percent of people with the disease in both the U.S. and Europe do not see a neurologist, and the number is far greater in developing countries; therefore there is a need to increase access to appropriate care channels. They also advocate for increased research funding and reducing treatment costs - many people with Parkinson’s in low-income countries do not have access lifesaving drugs which improve quality of life.
"For too long the Parkinson's community has been too quiet on these issues," said Dorsey. "Building on the AIDS community's motto of 'silence=death,' the Parkinson's community should make their voices heard. The current and future burden of this debilitating disease depends upon their action."
Ray Dorsey, Bastiaan R. Bloem. The Parkinson Pandemic—A Call to Action. JAMA Neurol. Published online November 13, 2017. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2017.3299