pan·dem·ic\/panˈdemik/ adjective: occurring over a wide geographic area and affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population “The 1918 flu was pandemic and claimed millions of lives.” noun: an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population: “a pandemic outbreak of a disease”
The alarm that there could be a “pandemic” of PD was sounded last week in a report in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease, “The Emerging Evidence of the Parkinson Pandemic” by E. Ray Dorsey, Todd Sherer, Michael S. Okun and Bastiaan R. Bloem. (Mr. Twitchy, always on the lookout for Parkinson’s news, ran across the study today and sent me several articles today based on this report.)
The authors* are all highly respected researchers in the Parkinson’s world. They have been following the growth of Parkinson’s Disease since 1990. From 1990 – 2014, the number of people with Parkinson’s Disease worldwide doubled to over 6 million. The authors predict that those numbers will double again to 12 million by 2040, They say that “The Parkinson pandemic is fueled by aging populations, increasing longevity, declining smoking rates, and the by-products of industrialization.”
Yes, the population is aging. Life expectancy has increased by 6 years in the last 2 decades and will most likely continue to increase, putting more people at risk for PD after age 65. The impact on our health system and support systems will be enormous as the number of people with advanced PD increases.
Declining smoking rates??? Many studies over the years have shown that smoking decreases the risk of PD by about 40%. As smoking rates decline, there could be an increase in PD. However, if you are not a smoker, please don’t consider starting just to reduce your PD risk.
The “by-products of industrialization” include pesticides, solvents and heavy metals. However, they emphasize that exposure to these agents is preventable in the workplace. The big question is, how many employers will take the necessary steps to protect their workers from being exposed. This is definitely a cause of PD that can be reduced.
But the news is by no means all doom and gloom. Quite to the contrary. According to two articles, one from Science Alert
and another from Eureka Alert,
researchers are getting closer to finding what actually causes Parkinson’s, and many new treatments for PD are being approved every year. We may not have a cure for a while, but we are getting closer to slowing down the progression of PD to make our lives much better.
Against that background, the Dr. Dorsey proposed that the Parkinson’s community form a “PACT” to Prevent, Advocate for, Care, and Treat the disease through understanding the root causes (environmental, genetic, and biological), expanding new care models that seek to bring expert care to all, and developing new highly effective therapies. They point out that, the most effective therapy we have today (levodopa) is now fifty years old. It is time for something new. Now.
Pandemics in the past, such as — polio, breast cancer and HIV are a fewe recent examples — have been reduced successfully and substantially because of activism coming from the community. We can both prevent potential the PD pandemic and help those who already have it by supporting research, participating in clinical trials for new treatments, and raising awareness about Parkinson’s. The key, the authors say, is that we all work together to accomplish this goal.
*E. Ray Dorsey, Department of Neurology and Center for Health+Technology, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, NY, USA. Todd Sherer, Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, New York, NY, USA. Michael S. Okun, Fixel Center for Neurological Diseases, Program for Movement Disorders and Neurorestoration, Department of Neurology, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA. Bastiaan R. Bloem, Radboud University Medical Center, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior, Department of Neurology, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.