The number of people affected by Parkinson’s disease has doubled in the past 25 years and is expected to double again by 2040, making it the fastest growing neurological disorder in the world. More than 100,000 Canadians live with Parkinson’s and another 25 are diagnosed every day.
Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder that causes difficulty in movement. Affected people experience a decrease in dopamine, causing tremors, slow, stiff movements and loss of balance.
Ray Dorsey, professor of neurology at the University of Rochester and author of Ending Parkinson’s Disease, recently joined The Morning Show to discuss how Canadians can best protect themselves.
Dorsey says that Parkinson’s disease is so common that he considers it a pandemic.
The Mayo Clinic says the exact cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown, but several factors appear to play a role, including genes and environmental triggers – but the latter is a relatively small risk. Still, in the past decade, several studies have found a connection between Parkinson’s disease and exposure to pesticides / chemicals.
“All parts of the world are affected,” says Dorsey.
In this country, Parkinson’s affects one in 500 people, and Canada has the highest Parkinson’s rate in the world.
Dorsey says the reasons for the disease’s rapid growth are unknown.
“But if you look at the environmental risk factors that are linked to Parkinson’s disease, they are common in Canada.”
Pesticides like paraquat – used primarily to kill weeds – and chlorpyrifos, which is used for insects, are commonly used in the United States and Canada, says Dorsey. In addition, more than 50% of Canada is agricultural land, according to data from Statistics Canada 2014, and almost 2% of Canadians are farmers, he adds.
The most effective treatment for Parkinson’s was developed more than 50 years ago and Dorsey says the treatment is stagnant due to the lack of better measurements.
For example, if you are treating heart disease and want to see if a diet or exercise program would improve your condition, you should take your blood pressure or check your cholesterol, he says.
“In 2021, we will still be measuring Parkinson’s disease by getting people to tap with their thumb and forefinger and rate it on a scale,” says Dorsey.
“We need better measures of Parkinson’s disease so that we can get better treatments for the 100,000 Canadians who currently have (a).”
Cures are hard to find, but prevention is much more possible, he says, adding that we don’t have a cure for lung cancer, but we do know that we can help prevent it if we stop smoking.
“If we stop using these pesticides, if we clean our air, if we clean our water … we can prevent the 37 million Canadians who don’t have Parkinson’s disease from ever developing it.”