US Parkinson's disease incidence far higher than earlier estimates -study

Analysis of insurance claims and population growth indicates higher numbers than previously thought - and they will continue to rise.

 Parkinson's disease (illustrative) (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Parkinson's disease (illustrative)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)

The annual number of new Parkinson's disease diagnoses in the United States is likely 50% higher than estimated, based on a broad analysis of insurance claims and population growth detailed in a study published on Thursday that could help increase funding and care for the disabling illness.

Earlier, much smaller US studies conducted in the mid-1980's had suggested roughly 60,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson's disease each year. The number in 2020 was likely closer to 86,000 and will approach 90,000 this year, James Beck, chief scientific officer for the Parkinson's Foundation, said in an interview.

Documentation helps obtain funding for research

Parkinson's - the second-most deadly neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer's disease - is disabling and incurable. The estimated economic cost is $52 billion annually in the United States alone, according to a report of the study published in npj Parkinson's Disease.

The researchers hope documenting the higher numbers will help the Parkinson's Foundation and other advocacy groups such as the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research obtain increased funding for research and access to care.

To update the estimated number of people being diagnosed with the disease, Beck's team analyzed data from large health insurance databases and long-term health studies on more than 15 million adults across the United States and in Ontario, Canada, in 2012. That is the most recent year for which the necessary data was consistent among all the databases, Beck said.

 Actor Michael J. Fox speaks during a panel discussion on Parkinson's disease during lunch at the annual Skybridge Alternatives Conference (SALT) in Las Vegas May 6, 2015. Fox was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson's disease in 1991. (credit: RICK WILKING/REUTERS) Actor Michael J. Fox speaks during a panel discussion on Parkinson's disease during lunch at the annual Skybridge Alternatives Conference (SALT) in Las Vegas May 6, 2015. Fox was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson's disease in 1991. (credit: RICK WILKING/REUTERS)

Using computer models, the researchers adjusted the findings to reflect more recent US populations.

"These updated estimates of incidence are necessary for understanding disease risk, planning healthcare delivery, and addressing care disparities," Beck said.

"We're confident that we have data sets that represent a broad swath of America."

Rising rate in older people

Each year, Parkinson's disease is diagnosed in 47 to 77 of every 100,000 adults over age 45 and in 108 to 112 of every 100,000 age 65 and older, Beck's team reported.

The higher rate in older people is not surprising because age is the biggest risk factor for the disease, Beck said.

"Because the US population is aging, a lot of people are going to be entering the health system with Parkinson's disease."

Chief scientific officer for the Parkinson's Foundation, James Beck 

A separate study by Beck's team recently put the number of US patients living with Parkinson's disease at nearly 1 million, whereas earlier estimates had been closer to 650,000, he said.

The global Parkinson's disease drug market is projected to reach $8.4 billion by 2030, from $5.5 billion in 2021, according to QY Research as reported by Biospace.

Manufacturers of Parkinson's treatments include Pfizer Inc PFE.N, Roche Holding AG ROG.S, Merck & Co MRK.N, Novartis AG NOVN.S, UCB SA UCB.BR, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd VRTX.O, H Lundbeck A/S LUN.CO, Acadia Pharmaceuticals ACAD.O, Vertical Pharma Resources Ltd and Impax Laboratories.

"Because the US population is aging, a lot of people are going to be entering the health system with Parkinson's disease," Beck said, "and there are only about 700 neurologists in the country who specialize in movement disorders."