Neurological diseases, which include Alzheimer’s disease (AD), dementia and Parkinson’s disease, are the leading causes of disability worldwide, and are becoming more prevalent as life expectancy increases.
The University of Rochester Medical Center has discovered that the prevalence of Parkinson’s disease will reach pandemic proportions by 2040, at a rate of growth that outpaces that of Alzheimer’s disease.
There are currently 6.9 million Parkinson’s sufferers, and this is expected to more than double by 2040 to 14.2m, growing at rate of 105%.
This forecast is based on the twofold increase in the number of people with Parkinson’s between 1990 and 2015 – but even these figures are conservative, as the disease is often under-reported and misdiagnosed.
What can be done?
Scientists have yet to identify a definitive cause of Parkinson’s disease, but they believe its growing prevalence is due to increasing life expectancy, exposure to environmental toxins, and even the decreasing number of people smoking, as smoking reduces the risk of developing Parkinson’s.
If the economic and social costs of the pandemic are to be minimised, scientists must improve their understanding of the environmental, genetic and behavioural causes of the disease. Governments will need to promote access to treatment and healthcare services, as well as increasing funding into research and social care.
Just as important, experts must work to change people’s perception of neurological disorders as an inevitable element of old age, when they are in fact they are diseases that are capable of reaching pandemic proportions.