Could rural Americans, particularly Midwestern farmers, be at greater risk for Parkinson’s disease? That’s one question that’ll be addressed at the annual "Parkinson’s Progress" conference today in Omaha/Council Bluffs. The event is for health care providers, patients, families and caregivers of those who have Parkinson’s.
Dr. John Bertoni, Creighton University’s chair of neurology, says they’ve found an interesting trait about the illness — rural Midwesterners seem to be more susceptible. Bertoni says: "We certainly see a lot of farmers with this and in the United States and developed countries, it appears to be the people in the rural area. Where as in China and some other developing countries, it’s more prevalent apparently in the city. However, comparing these kind of studies is very tricky and we’re not sure we can do it safely."
He says Creighton researchers are looking at common chemicals many farmers use as a possible cause. Bertoni says: "There is nothing that is really, definitely one-to-one. It may be that there are people exposed to certain chemicals and some of them may be pesticides or herbicides but the information is really mixed. When we are looking for a link, we look there because there are some of these chemicals that we know in experimental animals might produce a Parkinson-like state." Bertoni says they will also have updates on how to make things easier for those who suffer from the illness.
"People that have it tend to be slower, they are rigid or stiff, they may have a tremor, they may have trouble walking and shuffle and even fall too easily and some of them become demented," Bertoni says,"this is what the caregivers, spouses, family and other people associated with the patient have to deal with."
An Iowa State University report, published in 2004, found farmers are up to five times more susceptible to Parkinson’s disease, while pesticide and herbicide users ranged up to three times more susceptible.