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Research Foundation: Brochure 8

Each of these possible mechanisms of disease onset and progression are being intensely investigated, but it is important to understand that Parkinson’s disease is likely to involve more than one of these mechanisms, and possibly elements of them all. Each may interact in complex ways with the others, as well as with other factors still unknown.

Among all of these hypothetical pathways to Parkinson’s disease, there is one common denominator: all result in the loss of dopamine. This basic fact is what drives scientific discovery at the Michael Stern Parkinson’s research laboratory at The Rockefeller University.

Who is Affected?

Since physicians are not required to report incidences of Parkinson’s in their patients, it is difficult to precisely define the number of people in the U.S. who have the disease. Estimates range from 500,000 to 1.5 million, with about 50,000 to 60,000 new diagnoses each year.

Experts say the number of people with Parkinson’s is on the rise, due in large part to our aging population. The average age of onset is 60, and the disease is relatively common after age 50, affecting perhaps 1 percent to 2 percent of people in that age group. Still, Parkinson’s is not only a disease of aging: 5 percent to 10 percent of patients are diagnosed before age 40, about 15 percent are under age 50 and 40 percent are under 60. The incidence appears to be increasing among younger people, for unknown reasons.

Men and women are affected in almost equal numbers, while Asians and African-Americans are less likely to get Parkinson’s than are whites. The disease knows no social, economic or geographic boundaries, although there is some evidence that people who live in rural areas are at greater risk, as are people who drink well water, and those who are exposed to pesticides.