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12 Surprising Facts You Didn’t know About Parkinson’s Disease

User Category: BlogOn: May 6, 2013

Parkinson’s (also known as idiopathic parkinsonism, hypokinetic rigid syndrome/HRS, or paralysis agitans) was first discovered in 1817 by British doctor James Parkinson, and brought into public attention in the modern times by celebrities with parkinsonism including Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali.Parkinson’s Disease is a brain disorder that results from the gradual degeneration of nerve cells in the neural area called the “substantia nigra”, which controls muscle movement and coordination through the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine. As the neurons die off, the amount of dopamine in the brain decreases, resulting in classic parkinsonism symptoms including muscle stiffness, tremor, weakness, and trembling. Because the condition is progressive in nature, symptoms gradually worsen over time. Beyond the physical manifestation of PD, the disease is often accompanied by mental health problems including depression.While Parkinson’s affects millions of Americans, many know very little about the disease. Here are 12 surprising facts about PD you need to know:Each year, there are over 50,000 new cases of Parkinson’s in the United States.One in every 200 individuals will be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.Men are twice as likely to develop PD as compared to women.Parkinson’s disease usually begins between around the average age of 56, affecting about 1% of the population aged 50-65.The youngest person ever diagnosed with Parkinson’s is 12 years old.Although it is claimed that Parkinson's Disease becomes more likely with age, amongst the very oldest of people, those between 110 and 120 years old, Parkinson's Disease is virtually unknown.Diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease is difficult, since there is no blood or other laboratory test, which can confirm if someone definitely has the condition. A doctor can evaluate your symptoms and run a series of tests to rule out other disease to arrive at a PD diagnosis Researchers believe genetics play a large role in PD. In studies, researchers have found that people with an affected first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, have a 4%-9% increased chance of having PD.Parkinsonism may be caused by viral infection or exposure to environmental toxins including carbon monoxide, pesticides, and certain metals.Other causes may include illicit drug use, adverse reaction to prescription medication, repeated head trauma, brain inflammation (encephalitis), and stroke.The US spends over $25 billion on Parkinson’s Disease: the combined direct and indirect costs of the disease including treatment, social security payments, and lost income from inability to work.Medication costs for an individual person with Parkinson’s average $2,500 a year, and therapeutic surgery can cost up to $100,000 per individual annually. Do you have a family member, friend, or client affected by Parkinson’s Disease? What do you wish the public knew about PD? 


  • […] In fact, age is the biggest risk factor for developing Parkinson’s disease (PD), with 1% of the population aged 50-65 suffering from PD in the U.S. Studies also show that, for reasons unknown, men are 50 percent […]

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  • Nanette J. Davis says:

    Very interesting information. My friend recently died of Parkinson’s disease, and was ill for over 30 years (he died at 78 years old). He was extraordinarily ill the last two years with increasing dementia and hallucinations. I think my friend was incredibly supported by his wife and family, and did not appear to suffer from depression in the classic sense. Falls were a common complaint, and inability to speak clearly or walk (in his last few months). It is a very difficult and draining experience to be a caregiver for a Parkinson’s patient. (I write books on caregiving, based on interview data.) Nanette

    • Thank you for sharing your personal story, Nanette. It’s surely helpful to others to here about the experiences your friend went through when battling Parkinson’s. For many, I’m sure it comes as a surprise that dementia and hallucinations were present since these aspects of the disease are much less talked about.

  • This is another excellent post on another important topic. One question and a comment:

    1) Please check the number of 500,000 new cases per year. I think the literature says 50,000, which is consistent with the estimate of 1 million total in the US & 5 million world wide. Given the aging of the population, some estimate that the total number in the US will double by 2030.

    2) As you note, the cause(s) of Parkinson’s disease are not known. There is no cure or means to slow the progression. Therefore, present therapies are focused on symptom management, with the goal of improving Health Related Quality of Life or HRQOL. (See CDC.) In many ways, this makes the treatment of PD more like Palliative Health with its focus on symptom and complication management rather than other conditions such as diabetes or hypertension where there is a direct measure of health associated with the condition.

    Along with depression, 75% of patients with Parkinson’s will experience cognitive impairment and 35% to 40% will endure dementia. This, combined with frequent and complex medication regimen and the fact that because of the geographically disbursed population with few specialists means that the care team includes neurologists, primary care and others making care coordination a challenge.

    Thus, PD is an ideal candidate for the kinds of models you discussed last week in your excellent post on Patient Centered Medical Homes and Medicaid Health Homes.

    (Note: Last week a team of graduate students at Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI) under Dr. Josette Jones completed an analysis of ways in which Internet and mobile technologies may help improve outcomes and lower cost for patients and providers dealing with Parkinson’s disease. Contact me to learn more.)

    • Doug, thanks for another thoughtful comment and for pointing out the typo. You are correct and I have updated the post accordingly. Your point about Parkinson’s symptome management being similar to palliative care is an interesting one. When writing this, I began thinking about the comparisons between MS and Parkinson’s. Perhaps since MS symptoms are visible at a younger age, the focus shifts to improving quality of life and functionality for persons with MS.

      We will be doing a number of posts about Parkinson’s in the next two weeks and next, we’ll be talking about “invisible” symptoms of PD like depression so your observations are very timely!

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