Medical person places hand on patient in gesture of reassurance

A new study finds the incidence of Parkinson’s disease (PD) among older adults in the United States is 50% higher than previous estimates, and rates of the disease are higher among males and in certain geographic regions of the country.

The peer-reviewed study, the most comprehensive assessment of its kind in North America, measured the incidence of Parkinson’s disease across five epidemiological cohorts in a common year, 2012. Based upon their findings, researchers estimated the incidence rate of the disease among older adults at about 90,000 annually, significantly higher than the 40,000-60,000 per year estimates that were found in smaller studies.

“Our primary finding was that the overall prevalence of Parkinson disease among persons ages 45 and older was 572/100,000,” the study’s authors wrote. “We also found that PD burden in the population at ages 65 and above was higher than typically reported.” 

Key findings of the study include:

  • Parkinson’s disease incidence estimates increase with age, particularly among older adults 65 and over
  • Incidence estimates of the disease are higher in males than females at all ages
  • Incidence rates are higher in certain geographic regions: Southern California, Southeastern Texas, Central Pennsylvania and Florida, and in the “Rust Belt” region of the Northeastern and Midwestern U.S. with a history of heavy industrial manufacturing

“Unique to this study, we found that PD incidence estimates have varied for many reasons, including how cases are identified and the geographic location of the study,” Allison Willis, MD, lead author of the study and associate professor of Neurology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, said in a news release.

“The persistence of the Parkinson’s disease belt in the U.S. might be due to population, healthcare or environmental factors,” she added. “Understanding the source of these variations will be important for health care policy, research and care planning.”

The study was funded by the Parkinson’s Foundation, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF), and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES). 

Parkinson’s disease is the second most common age-related neurodegenerative condition disease in North America. Researchers hope the study will help shed a light on Parkinson’s “hot spots” where more resources might be needed, whether it be a registry for researchers to analyze critical data or programs and services to support individuals and families living with the disease.

“The growth in those diagnosed and living with PD underscores the need to invest in more research toward better treatments, a cure, and one day, prevention,” said Brian Fiske, PhD, co-author of the study and chief scientific officer at MJFF,” in the news release. “It’s also a clear call to lawmakers to implement policies that will lessen the burden of Parkinson’s disease on American families and programs like Medicare and Social Security.” 

The study was published in the Dec. 15 issue of the scientific journal npj Parkinson’s Disease.