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Research Foundation: Brochure 9

The Economic Impact of Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease has been called the biological opposite of Alzheimer’s: While Alzheimer’s destroys the mind and generally leaves the body functioning, Parkinson’s robs its victims of normal physical movement, leaving the mind a prisoner in the body. People with Parkinson’s live with physical incapacitation for years or decades and eventually may require complete care. The impact on individuals and their families is enormous.

The financial burden on families is also immense: according to the Parkinson’s Action Network, drugs commonly used to treat Parkinson’s cost between $1,000 and $6,000 per year, per patient. Annual medical care, including doctors’ visits, physical therapies and treatment for co-occurring illnesses (such as depression) is estimated at $2,000 to $7,000 for people in early stages of the disease, and is perhaps much higher for advanced stages. Surgical treatments for Parkinson’s can cost $25,000 or more. As the disease progresses, institutional care at an assisted-living facility or nursing home may be required, and these costs can exceed $100,000 annually, per person.

With about a million people affected in the U.S., it is clear that Parkinson’s exacts a tremendous economic burden on the nation. Forty percent of people affected are under the age of 60, placing them squarely in the workforce. Experts say that about a third of employed individuals will lose their jobs within a year of a Parkinson’s diagnosis, making lost productivity a major factor in the societal impact of the disease. Moreover, the direct

costs of treating and caring for people with Parkinson’s are placing a growing burden on healthcare systems – a burden certain to rise as Baby Boomers age.

Estimates of the overall cost of Parkinson’s are widely disparate: the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) puts the figure in excess of $5.6 billion, including both direct medical expenses and indirect costs such as lost income and disability payments. But many experts say the number is much higher – as much as $25 billion or more.

What is clear is that investment in medical research that leads to better treatments for Parkinson’s can save millions of dollars each year. Studies have shown that for every dollar spent on research, $13 could be saved in direct and indirect costs of illnesses. If new therapies could be found that could produce even a modest 10 percent slowing in the progression of Parkinson’s, hundreds of millions of dollars could be saved every year.

Despite these promising projections, Parkinson’s continues to receive far less federal research support than most other disorders, according to the Parkinson’s Action Network. The NINDS, the lead federal agency responsible for biomedical research on neurological disorders, will commit $215 million to Parkinson’s research in 2003. While that may seem like a lot, in reality it is less than one percent – 1/100th – of the estimated yearly cost of the disease.

Privately funded research must fill these huge gaps in federal funding. At the Michael Stern Parkinson’s Research Foundation, at least 96 percent of contributions go directly to research aimed at finding a cure. Donations of any amount can help us make a difference for the millions of people affected by Parkinson’s directly or through a family member.