While Covid-19 cases are exploding in Kern County, there’s another health crisis stealthily stalking us: Parkinson’s disease.
Unlike the coronvirus, Parkinson’s isn’t contagious. You can’t “catch” it, but it is insidious and sneaks up on its victims gradually–often innocuously–ultimately robbing them of their independence. And it’s growing.
Note: The following appeared as COMMUNITY VOICES: The other pandemic hitting the valley: Parkinson’s disease in the Bakersfield Californian.
According to an international group of researchers, Parkinson’s is the fastest growing neurological disease in the world and the second most common neurological disorder after Alzheimer’s in the United States. That’s why they call it a pandemic.
One million people in the US alone suffer from Parkinson’s disease and 60,000 more are diagnosed every year.
There’s no cure. And, unlike with Covid-19, there’s no vaccine on the horizon.
Once diagnosed, however, Parkinson’s disease can be treated. There are drugs that can dramatically reduce the symptoms, greatly improving the patient’s quality of life. Better yet, there are simple lifestyle changes, such as increased exercise, that can slow the disease’s progression.
While debilitating, a Parkinson’s diagnosis isn’t a death sentence. Many suffering from the disease go on to lead full and productive lives for decades after diagnosis. Michael J. Fox is one example. Linda Ronstadt and Rev. Jesse Jackson are among many others.
Therein lies the rub. Many go undiagnosed for years. The stooped posture, shuffling walk, rigid muscles, tremor, cramped writing, and the loss of the sense of smell–tell-tale signs of Parkinson’s disease–are often attributed to aging. Unfortunately, they’re not part of normal aging.
Parkinson’s places a huge emotional and financial burden on patients and their families. The disease costs the American economy more than $50 billion per year. Half of that is direct medical costs primarily to Medicare, as most patients are older than 65. The other half–in indirect and non-medical costs–is borne by the families of those afflicted.
Vietnam Vets, farm workers, and boxers are particularly prone to the illness. And, unfortunately, simply living and breathing in Bakersfield is a risk factor for developing Parkinson’s disease.
UCLA’s pioneering research in the San Joaquin Valley concluded that–due to widespread use of pesticides–you’re more likely to develop Parkinson’s here than anywhere else in the country, leading to our infamous sobriquet “Parkinson’s Alley.”
As our population ages, the incidence of Parkinson’s disease will only increase, exacerbating the Valley’s unfortunate notoriety.
What can you do to fight Parkinson’s disease? Become informed about the “other” pandemic, its symptoms, its causes, and how it can be treated. Urge Congress to prevent avoidable cases of Parkinson’s by eliminating pesticides known to cause the disease–and banned in most other industrial countries. And support research into new treatments that promise to improve the quality of life for those living with Parkinson’s today and perhaps lead to a cure tomorrow.
If you’d like to learn more about Parkinson’s disease, we encourage you to join the Parkinson’s Foundation on August 11 for “What You and Your Family Should Know about Parkinson’s,” a free online event produced in partnership with the Bakersfield Parkinson’s Support Group. Register by visiting the foundation’s web site (www.Parkinson.org/Bakersfield) or by visiting our support group’s Facebook page.
Paul Gipe is a local author and co-organizer of the Bakersfield Parkinson’s Support Group.