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Experts say an aging population may be a factor in an estimated increase in Parkinson’s disease diagnoses. Shikhar Bhattarai/Stocksy United
  • Researchers say there may be 90,000 Parkinson’s disease diagnoses in the United States every year instead of the previously estimated 60,000 annually.
  • Experts say an aging population as well as better detection of the disease could be two contributing factors.
  • They say they hope the new figures will lead to an increase in funding for research as well as a renewed focus on finding a cure and new treatments for the disease.

Previous estimates have suggested that there are approximately 60,000 new diagnoses of Parkinson’s disease in the United States every year.

However, that number may be closer to 90,000 diagnoses annually, according to a study published today in the scientific journal npj Parkinson’s disease.

In addition to an updated incidence rate, the researchers report that Parkinson’s disease:

  • Increases with age in people 65 years and older.
  • It is diagnosed more often in men than in women.
  • It is more common in some regions of the United States, such as the Rust Belt (parts of northeastern and midwestern U.S. and other areas with a history of heavy industrial manufacturing), Southern California, southeastern Texas, central Pennsylvania, and Florida.

The researchers noted that the increasing aging population is likely a factor in the estimated 50% higher estimate of Parkinson’s diagnoses.

Other potential causes include:

A better awareness, understanding, and recognition of the disease and its symptoms also increase diagnoses.

“It is essential to know these numbers,” said James Beck, Ph.D., a senior vice president and chief scientific officer at the Parkinson’s Foundation and one of the study’s authors.

“This is important data for advocates and policymakers to know to hopefully increase funding for research and helping patients and their families,” he told Healthline.

Currently, there aren’t any drugs that can slow down the progression of the disease or prevent Parkinson’s.

“One other reason that knowing the prevalence is important is because of the impact on drug development,” said Dr. Andrew Feigin, the executive director of NYU Langone’s Marlene and Paolo Fresco Institute for Parkinson’s and Movement Disorders.

“Pharmaceutical companies allocate their money and resources to developing drugs that will help a large part of the population,” Feigin told Healthline. “With potentially 90,000 new diagnoses a year and about a million people living with the condition, drug companies could decide to use more resources to develop new drugs to treat and possibly prevent {Parkiinson’s].”

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease that causes unintended or uncontrollable movements, such as stiffness, shaking, and problems with balance and coordination, according to the National Institute on Aging.

Its exact cause is unknown. Symptoms typically develop slowly over time. In the beginning, they could be mild and then gradually worsen.

“One major message of this study is the importance of developing brief early screening tests for possible [Parkinson’s] that can be performed by doctors in other specialties who see older patients (geriatricians, dementia specialists, etc.),” said Dr. Pietro Mazzoni, an associate professor of neurology and co-director of the Movement Disorders Division at The Ohio State University.

“This was motivated by finding an important discrepancy between two pairs of data sets, one showing a decrease in [Parkinson’s] incidence at very old ages,” Mazzoni told Healthline. “These were data sets in which a diagnosis was made through less reliable methods and may be underestimated.”

Currently, there isn’t a lab or imaging test to diagnose Parkinson’s, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation. It is sometimes diagnosed by an internist or family physician based on symptoms.

Criteria for a Parkinson’s diagnosis include:

  • Bradykinesia – slowness of movement
  • Shaking or tremor in a limb while it is at rest
  • Stiffness or rigidity of arms, legs, or trunk
  • Trouble with balance and falls

“Early symptoms can vary from patient to patient,” said Dr. Jean-Philippe Langevin, a neurosurgeon and director of the Restorative Neurosurgery and Deep Brain Stimulation Program for Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California.

“Often, people will start noticing a tremor in the hand. Occasionally, the patient can feel a muscle pulling or stiffness sensation and will seek medical help for this condition,” Langevin told Healthline.

“Patients should ask their doctors about symptoms like tremors or stiffness that appear to not get better after a few weeks,” he added. “If the symptoms are subtle but don’t improve with typical conservative measures such as physical therapy, it will prompt additional studies to find a cause.”

According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, early symptoms include:

“If you believe you or a loved one may have [Parkinson’s], you should start with your primary care physician and then see a neurologist if warranted,” Beck said.

Your doctor might also recommend physical or occupational therapy.

“The average age for diagnosis is 60,” Feigin said. “But people can live many years past that. After a diagnosis, doctors typically assess symptoms and how they affect everyday living. If there isn’t much impact, we could delay treatment until symptoms start interfering with daily living tasks. Parkinson’s disease doesn’t lessen your life expectancy but can lower your quality of life.”

Treatment only affects symptoms, according to the National Institute on Aging.

“There is no treatment known to slow down or reverse the brain changes caused by [Parkinson’s],” Mazzoni said.

There isn’t a single way of treating Parkinson’s, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation.

Treatments are tailored to an individual. A movement specialist will assess your symptoms and work with you to come up with a treatment plan. Frequently, people have a treatment team, made up of themselves, their neurologist, therapists, care partners, and other healthcare professionals who treat specific symptoms.

“The main treatment options for Parkinson’s disease are exercise therapy, medication, and neuromodulation,” explained Langevin. “Fortunately, all three options are not mutually exclusive and work in synergy. In general, medications work to increase the levels of dopamine in the brain to supplement the missing supply. In neuromodulation, an electrode is inserted in the brain to deliver a small electrical current. The therapy is continuously on so that it is always active to reduce the symptoms, and this can make a big difference at times when the medication wears off in between doses.”

Some of the medications commonly used are:

“Another important line of treatment is physical intervention,” Mazzoni said. “Physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and a group of less formal but increasingly popular approaches like dancing, boxing, and other activities adapted to various degrees to be suitable for people with [Parkinson’s].”