Parkinson's disease continues to be studied but conclusive answers are few.
Not only have researchers worked hard to discover the causes of the disease, they have also struggled to understand Parkinson's prevention and risk factors. Unfortunately, no one has found a reliable way of preventing Parkinson's disease (PD) from developing or progressing. They have, however, shed light on its risk factors, helping both doctors and the general public to understand the disease and its place among other chronic debilitating illnesses.
One of the clearest risk factors for Parkinson's disease is gender. According to a 2003 study published by the American Journal of Epidemiology, men are nearly twice as likely to develop the disease as women. Age likely plays an important role in the development of the disease, as well. The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that the average age for the onset of PD is 55, while only 10 percent of all cases of the disease occur in people younger than 40. Many people over the age of 65 also experience symptoms of PD without developing the disease itself, a condition known as parkinsonism. One study found evidence of parkinsonism in 15 percent of patients aged between 65 and 74, 30 percent of those aged between 75 and 84 and over 50 percent of those older than 85. Interestingly, though, some studies have shown the risk for PD may decrease after the age of 75, and that the very elderly actually have a low risk of developing the disease.
Race has been shown to be a somewhat significant risk factor for PD. The same 2003 study by the American Journal of Epidemiology indicated that Hispanics had the highest risk of developing the disease, followed by non-Hispanic whites and Asians. African-Americans had the lowest risk. Still, the gender- and age-adjusted risk for developing PD remains relatively low -- only about 13 out of every 100,000 people have the disease, regardless of race.
A family history of Parkinson's disease is also a risk factor, but it does not appear to be significant. According to the National Parkinson Foundation, between 5 and 10 percent of people with PD have relatives who have had the disease. Additionally, the disease only clearly runs in families less than 1 percent of the time, making it difficult to predict, even among immediate family members.
One important exception to this weak correlation is the incidence of PD among twins under the age of 50. Studies have shown that when someone's twin had PD, there is an increased risk of the other twin also developing the disease. However, this correlation does not apply to twins over the age of 60.
As of 2009, there is no known cure for Parkinson's disease. Also, since researchers have been unable to discover precisely what causes PD, there are no known ways to prevent it. However, those at risk for developing PD can always benefit from leading a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise and a well-balanced diet. Before beginning an exercise regimen or making major dietary adjustments, it's best to consult a medical professional.