From time to time, I’ve wondered if it was just me or my perception that more and more people are being diagnosed with Parkinson’s. I must admit that I have not spent a lot of time researching this but let’s just say that my eyes have “perked up” of late with developments in this regard.
Parkinson’s Disease was diagnosed almost 200 years ago. It was first described by English physician Dr. James Parkinson in his work entitled An Essay on the Shaking Palsy (1817). Until relatively recently, however, it has not received much attention with respect to medical research on care, treatment, prevention, or cure. In the past few decades, research has received a tremendous boost from organizations like the Michael J Fox Foundation and National Parkinson’s Foundation. Yet this “spurt” of activity, means that we do not have a long history of enquiry to which we can turn. We have very few studies that inform us of the cause for, or the development of, Parkinson’s over a long period of time.
That may be changing. In late June 2016, results of a study in Minnesota were reported on in JAMA Neurology by a group of researchers out of the Mayo Clinic. See a report of it here or to access full study, click here.
Now, before I go further, regular readers of this blog may be asking “Where is the humour in this piece? If I click on the aforementioned links, will one of them lead to a funny picture or some witty story?”. No, I’m afraid not today. The links lead to reports on actual research.. Today’s blog entry is pretty dry. I just couldn’t liven it up 🙂 If you’re still looking for a laugh, perhaps try here. Back to the research…
The study looked at trends in the incidence of parkinsonism and PD over 30 years in a geographically defined American population. While this may be considered a “typical” population, the authors warn about trying to extrapolate too much from the data as the population may not have been as diverse as, or have been exposed to different contributing factors, as other communities.
That being said, I find it interesting that we are getting a bigger picture of this disease. This is the first study to show an increasing trend in recent years in the development of PD. In particular, it is reported that men of all ages had a 17 percent higher risk of developing parkinsonism and 24 percent higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease for every 10 calendar years. The study also showed that men 70 and older had an even greater increase—a 24 percent higher risk of developing parkinsonism and 35 percent higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease for every 10 calendar years. The results for women were similar but not as conclusive.
“We have reasons to believe that this is a real trend,” says Rodolfo Savica, M.D., Ph.D., lead author and neurologist at Mayo Clinic. “The trend is probably not caused merely by changes in people’s awareness or changes in medical practice over time. We have evidence to suggest that there has been a genuine increase in the risk of Parkinson’s disease”. The researchers point to environmental and lifestyle changes as potential causes for the increase.”There has been a dramatic change in exposure to some risk factors in the United States,” Dr. Savica says. “We know that environmental agents like pesticides or smoking or other agents in the environment have changed in the last 70 years or so. Changes in exposure to a number of risk factors may have caused Parkinson’s disease to rise.”
This is an important piece of the PD puzzle – we need not only to confirm if this same trend is replicated elsewhere but indeed to understand what causes Parkinson’s Disease in the first place. I don’t suspect we’ll have to wait another 200 years to move this forward.