A growing number of people under 50 are getting Parkinson’s disease, according to this news story. The “early-onset” Parkinson’s is fundamentally different than its “late-onset” counterpart, similar to the two time-dependent forms of Alzheimer’s. (More under the fold.)
Some 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, most in their 60s and 70s. The disease gradually destroys brain cells that produce dopamine, a chemical crucial for the cellular signaling that controls muscle movement. Too little dopamine causes increasingly severe tremors and periodically stiff or frozen limbs.
Up to 225,000 of those patients were diagnosed before age 50, the “young-onset” Parkinson’s that often appears without those classic symptoms. Instead of trembling, younger patients at first may find it hard to stand up straight, or drag a foot while walking.
Interestingly, the US has the highest prevalence of Parkinson’s in the world, making it truly a “disease of plenty.” Is it that we are living longer, and thus becoming more prone to age-related neurodegeneration, or is it part of who we are as Americans? As more younger people develop the disease, the question is becoming more and more muddled.
A note: As I was scanning the Wiki article on Parkinson’s, I noticed that many of the chemicals that cause Parkinsons-like symptoms are insecticides, herbicides, or heavy metals (Mercury, Manganese, Copper, etc). These are the byproducts of an industrialized society which relies heavily on chemicals. I am loathe to blame “industrialization” for another medical woe, but I doubt it is completely innocent, either.