Latest research from the New Zealand Brain Research Institute (NZBRI) shows the number of people with Parkinson's in New Zealand has increased by 60 per cent over the past 14 years, from an estimated 7,000 in 2006 to 11,000 in 2020.
NZBRI runs one of the world’s largest and longest Parkinson’s research studies and it projects the number of people in New Zealand with Parkinson’s will double in the next 25 years.
The joint researchers, Dr Daniel Myall and Dr Toni Pitcher say the sharp rise is due to our ageing population, and people now living longer with the disease.
April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month and NZBRI’s new data is being released ahead of World Parkinson’s Day on 11 April.
“We have 15 years of data from numerous research participants with Parkinson’s disease, as well as a large number of healthy control participants. Each person is given extensive regular neuropsychological assessment, clinical evaluations, eye movement testing, and, where possible, MRI or PET brain imaging,” Dr Myall says.
“Our study provides a platform for many other more targeted investigations, such as of caregiver burden, functional imaging, emotional effects on motor control, and epidemiology,” he says.
Dr Pitcher says there is no single cause of Parkinson’s, and men are twice as likely as women to have the disease.
“Surprisingly, the risk of getting Parkinson’s is 60% lower for smokers and 30% lower for coffee drinkers.
“We don’t yet understand why, but findings like this may give us important clues to what is causing the disease. There are many different symptoms of Parkinson’s, so each person requires individualised diagnosis and treatment, which again makes research into this condition so important.
“We’ve come to understand that it is not just individuals that get Parkinson’s — their whole family is affected. Family members are also vital contributors to our research programme, and increasingly we are beginning to focus on the impact of Parkinson’s on caregivers themselves,” Dr Pitcher says.