Skip to main content

New Evidence Supports Emerging Parkinson Disease Pandemic

February 07, 2019

Parkinson disease (PD) has historically been considered rare, however, new study findings published online in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease, have provided emerging evidence that PD is now becoming a pandemic.

“Neurological disorders are now the leading source of disability globally, and the fastest growing neurological disorder in the world is Parkinson disease,” Earl Ray Dorsey, MD, of the University of Rochester Medical Center, and colleagues wrote. “From 1990 to 2015, the number of people with Parkinson disease doubled to over 6 million. Driven principally by aging, this number is projected to double again to over 12 million by 2040.”

Although the PD pandemic is non-infectious, like most pandemics are, it “exhibits many of the characteristics of a pandemic.” The authors of the article review explain that the PD pandemic is experiencing exponential growth.

According to Dr Dorsey and his colleagues, the PD pandemic is being fueled by “aging populations, increasing longevity, declining smoking rates, and the by-products of industrialization.” The authors noted, however, that PD does not only affect older adults 65 years of age and older, it also affects many adults under age 50. Further findings suggest that the increasing longevity for older adults with or without PD will contribute to a higher burden.

“According to a recent study by Wannevich and colleagues, secular trends in life expectancy will increase the survival of 65-year-old individuals in France with Parkinson disease by about 3 years between 2010 and 2030,” authors explain. “This increase in longevity will lead to a 12% increase in the age-standardized prevalence rate over 20 years.”

They note that increasing longevity will likely increase the number of individuals with advanced PD who are more difficult to treat and who may have less access to care.

Other factors that may lead to a higher incidence of PD include declining smoking rates. According to the authors, past studies have determined that the risk of PD is decreased among smokers. The authors also explain that the by-products of industrialization may increase PD rates. They say that products including specific pesticides, solvents, and heavy metals have been linked to PD. Additionally, they point out that countries that have undergone the most rapid industrialization have seen the greatest increase in PD rates.  

Based on these factors, the authors explain:

“The tide of Parkinson disease is rising and spreading. Parkinson disease exacts an enormous human toll on those with the disease and those around them. The strain of caregiving has adverse health consequences of its own. The economic costs of Parkinson disease are also substantial, poised to grow, and at least in the U.S., overwhelmingly directed at institutional care, which few desire. Fortunately, the clues to the causes of the pandemic are all around us. What is missing is a willingness to act.”

Dr Dorsey and his colleagues explain that society has successfully confronted pandemics of polio, breast cancer, and HIV. They cite the success to efforts of activism. The authors explain that following past examples of activism, “those with and at risk for Parkinson disease can form a “PACT” to prevent, advocate for, care, and treat the disease.”

“Where feasible, we should prevent Parkinson disease by reducing and in some cases eliminating the use of chemicals known to increase the risk of Parkinson disease,” they conclude.

“We have the means to prevent potentially millions from ever experiencing the debilitating effects of Parkinson disease.”

Julie Gould


Dorsey ER,  Sherer TB, Okun M, Bloem, B. The Emerging Evidence of the Parkinson Pandemic. J Parkinson’s Disease. 2018;8:(S1):S3-S8. doi: 10.3233/JPD-181474. 

For more Annals of Long-Term Care articles, visit the homepage

To view the Annals of Long-Term Care print issue, click here


Back to Top