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Top Risk Factors For Parkinson's Disease

August 2, 2022David Khoury

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that is most commonly known for affecting movement. It primarily impacts dopaminergic, or dopamine-producing, neurons in a specific area of the brain known as the substantia nigra.

While there is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease, research efforts have significantly deepened our understanding of the factors associated with an increased risk of its development. In this article, we will discuss established risk factors for Parkinson’s disease and all-cause dementia.

Risk Factors for Parkinson’s Disease

Similar to Alzheimer’s disease, there is no single cause of Parkinson’s disease. Experts currently believe Parkinson’s disease is multifactorial, meaning it is not caused by a single factor, but rather develops from some combination of several factors. In the case of Parkinson’s disease, these factors are primarily genetic and environmental. 

  • Advancing age: Unsurprisingly, age plays a role in Parkinson’s disease risk. Advanced age is the greatest known risk factor for Parkinson’s disease, with the average age of onset being 60. When the onset of Parkinson’s disease occurs before the age of 50, this is known as young-onset Parkinson’s disease.
  • Biological sex: Research suggests there may be a physiological difference in how males and females develop neurodegenerative diseases. Parkinson’s disease occurs in men more frequently than in women. Men are twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease, but women have a higher mortality rate and faster rate of disease progression.
  • Genetics: It’s believed that genetics cause approximately 10% to 15% of all Parkinson’s disease cases. Those with a parent or sibling who has Parkinson’s disease have approximately two times the chance of developing Parkinson’s disease. Genes linked to Parkinson’s disease include SNCA, PARK2, PARK7, PINK1, and LRRK2.
  • Toxin exposure: Some researchers and medical experts believe toxin exposure may slightly increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. This includes exposure to things like pesticides and herbicides, Agent Orange, solvents, manganese and other metals, and organic pollutants.

Modifiable Risk Factors for Parkinson’s Disease-Related Dementia and Other Dementias

Many neurological diseases, including Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, can induce dementia. In the same way that Alzheimer’s can cause Alzheimer’s disease-related dementia, Parkinson’s can cause Parkinson’s disease-related dementia. 

With that in mind, it is important to not only understand the risk factors for Parkinson’s disease itself, but also the risk factors for all-cause dementia. In a 2020 report of the Lancet Commission, they identified 12 potentially modifiable risk factors for dementia, as shown below.

Risk FactorRelative Risk for Dementia (95% CI)Risk Factor Prevalence
>>Early-Life (age <45 years)
Less Education1.640%
Midlife (age 45-65)
Hearing Loss1.931.7%
Traumatic Brain Injury1.812.1%
Alcohol (>21 units/week)1.211.8%
Obesity (body mass index ≥30)1.63.4%
Later Life (age >65)
Social isolation1.611.0%
Physical inactivity 1.417.7%
Air pollution1.175.0%

*Note: A relative risk value greater than 1.00 indicates increased risk of developing all-cause dementia, while a relative risk value less than 1.00 indicates decreased risk of developing all-cause dementia.

Experts estimate that the act of modifying these risk factors may prevent or delay up to 40% of dementia cases. It is never too early or too late to start making positive lifestyle changes and taking charge of your brain health. Here are several actionable steps you can take to control risk factors and promote brain health:

  • Stimulate your brain and build your cognitive reserve.
  • Use hearing aids for hearing loss.
  • Protect your ears from excessive noise exposure.
  • Wear protective gear to prevent head injury.
  • Control your blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • Find ways to manage your stress.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet. 
  • Get sufficient sleep.
  • Limit alcohol consumption.
  • Stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Increase social contact.
  • Stay active and exercise daily for 30 to 60 minutes.
  • Get diabetes under control.

Like many other diseases and disorders, early intervention and early treatment of Parkinson’s disease is likely to produce better health outcomes. Additionally, many treatments, such as levodopa, are more effective when administered early in the disease continuum. People with known risk factors for Parkinson’s disease should be regularly assessed for changes in brain function to enable the earliest possible detection.

Altoida’s mission is to accelerate and improve drug development, neurological disease research, and patient care. To learn more about our precision-neurology platform and app-based medical device, contact us!

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