New tip sheet provides overview of Parkinson’s disease

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College in New York City, and co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

Photo: Peter T. via FlickrLegendary boxer Muhammad Ali, shown after receiving the 2012 Liberty Medal in Philadelphia, Pa., had lived with Parkinson’s disease for more than 30 years before dying in 2016 at age 74.

We probably all know at least one older person who has developed Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative neurological condition which affects one in every hundred people over age 60.

A small proportion (about 4 percent) of adults under age 50 can develop it too. The National Institutes of Health estimates that one million people in the United States are living with this condition. As the population ages, incidence will likely increase, putting more pressure on the health system at a time when funding for federal health and science programs and research is under pressure.

Parkinson’s affects a person’s movement, speech, cognition, balance and behavior. There is no known cure, nor can symptoms be reversed, though they can be managed through a regimen of multiple medications and therapy. The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation estimates direct and indirect costs of the disease in the United States at around $25 billion annually.

The National Parkinson’s Foundation is doing some interesting work with their Parkinson’s Outcome Project — which they describe as the largest-ever clinical study of Parkinson’s disease, with nearly 10,000 patients in four countries.

Researchers are examining biological and neurological triggers in the hopes of improving methods of detection and disease management. Recently published Swedish research explored whether the vagus nerve, a long cranial nerve that extends from the brainstem to the abdomen, may play a role in whether someone does or does not develop the disease. Others are studying possible biological links between Parkinson’s and forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease, according to this article on the website of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. Fox, 55, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at age 29.

As a new AHCJ tip sheet explains, Parkinson’s is a disease that can strike anyone regardless of fame, fortune, or lifestyle. Sadly, as this article notes, it also affects some five million less famous individuals worldwide.

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