Cases of Parkinson’s disease have more than doubled in the last 25 years and show no signs of abating. This makes it the fastest growing neurological disorder, putting it ahead of dementia and a serious concern for the elderly.
At present, there are 6.9 million people across the planet who suffer with the disease, but by 2040, the figure is expected to reach 14.2 million. This is partly down to the fact that the population is ageing and the condition mainly affects those over 60.
There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s and scientists believe that more needs to be done to highlight the condition and push for better treatments to be found. High-profile sufferers of the disease include Billy Connolly and Michael J Fox.
Professor Ray Dorsey, of the University of Rochester, New York, said: “Pandemics are usually equated with infectious diseases like Zika, influenza and HIV. But neurological disorders are now the leading cause of disability in the world, and the fastest growing is Parkinson's disease.”
His comments come as part of an article written alongside Dr Bastiaan Bloem of the Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands. It says that there were more than twice as many people with Parkinson’s in 2015 than there had been in 1990.
The duo suggested that the medical community approach the task of tackling Parkinson’s in a similar way to what was used in the fight to beat HIV in the 1980s. It was transformed from a certain death sentence into a treatable condition.
Dr Bloem said: “People with HIV infection simply demanded better treatments and successfully rallied for both awareness and new treatments, literally chaining themselves to the doors of pharmaceutical companies.
“Today, HIV has become a treatable, chronic disease. This upcoming increase in the number of Parkinson patients is striking and frankly worrisome.”
The two scientists believe that the catalyst for change must come from the Parkinson’s community itself. They call for sufferers to demand action from the pharmaceutical industry and policymakers in order to prevent the potential pandemic.
Another issue that needs to be addressed is the lack of access to specialist doctors, as many diagnosed with the disease never see a neurologist. As many as 40 per cent of sufferers across the US and Europe do not see an expert in the field.
More funding is needed to help find a cure for Parkinson’s, after a breakthrough on the road to unlocking the secrets of the illness was reported in October. A brain enzyme known as PINK1 has been linked to Parkinson’s since 2004, but has remained something of a mystery.
Last month, scientists from Dundee University announced that they had managed to decipher the 3D structure of the enzyme, as well as its inner workings. Such a breakthrough could be the foundation for a cure or more effective treatment for the condition’s symptoms.
Sufferers have to cope with shaking and rigidity, which can make everyday tasks particularly difficult to carry out. This in turn can lead to a drop in quality of life and the inability to live independently.