By: Isaiah Silva
Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder, which leads to progressive deterioration of motor function. This is caused by a loss of dopamine producing brain cells. It is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder and most common movement disorder.
In the brain, there is a substance called dopamine, which acts like a messenger between two brain areas, the substantia nigra and the corpus striatum. This process and these areas produce smooth and controlled movements. When there is a lack of dopamine, movements start to become affected. The greater the loss of dopamine, the worse the movements become.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include: tremors, slowness, stiffness, and impaired balance. These symptoms can also lead to anxiety, depression, and dementia.
John Hamilton is a part of the Parkinson’s Registry Coalition for New Mexico. He believes that chemicals that are used in pesticides locally, are contributing to people being affected by Parkinson’s.
“Here in our area, the most popular pesticide active ingredient is called glyphosate.” Hamilton said.
Glyphosate is used where pecans, alfalfa, and cotton are grown. Those three crops cover the largest percent of plant area in Dona Ana County. Collectively, in 2010, they covered roughly 67 percent of plant area. Also in 2010, approximately 24,942 kg of glyphosate was used across the county.
Determining these numbers is hard because there are inconsistencies with usage data at the county level and through the NCFAP.
Since our community is surrounded by a lot of farmland, it is important to know how far these pesticides and ingredients can travel.
“In California, they did a study using GIS information where people were located next to a farm, within 500 meters of a farm where they’re using pesticides. So, I would judge by that fact it would be something like 500 meters.” Hamilton said.
Hamilton would like New Mexico to have a Parkinson’s registry. What a disease registry does is it basically gives a count of how many people have certain diseases.
“I was engaged with a group of people from what we call a support group for Parkinson’s, locally. We organized ourselves into a little body of advocates, this was back in 2012, and we went to our state legislature, at the time was Dr. Terry McMillian. We sought to have some further understanding of what was causing our disease.” Hamilton said.
“We are organized, in a matter of speaking, to achieve a disease registry.
Registries are important because they help people identify themselves. It helps them become a way for people to get more information and even participate in longitudinal studies.
“We found out that there have only been four registries in the United States. Only four. There was Washington, there was Nebraska, there was Utah, all three of those are still current, and there was California,” Hamilton said, “California had its registry for about six years.”
In Nebraska, their Department of Health and Human Services takes different measures in order to get information on new cases of Parkinson’s disease in the state. They require doctors to report certain information about people who have been diagnosed with PD within 60 days of diagnosis. They also require pharmacies to report twice a year about patients who have received one ore more medicine to prevent Parkinson’s disease.
Most people get diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when they are 60 or older. However, early onset Parkinson’s disease can also occur at anytime. With the proper treatment, people with Parkinson’s disease can lead long, and somewhat normal lives. Hamilton has a family history with Parkinson’s disease, which is affecting his children as well.
“I have a boy who’s a senior here at this campus and he has to think about Parkinson’s disease because my grandfather had it, my older son has something similar called, essential tremors, and I’ve got the trifecta,” Hamilton said, “I’ve got Parkinson’s, essential tremors, and the last one they call, cognitive impairment.”
Since life expectancy is slowly rising, the amounts of people with Parkinson’s disease will likely increase as well.
“Back in 2012, we wrote a letter to the then Secretary of the Department of Health of the state of New Mexico. Her name is Dr. Torres. Dr. Torres is a pediatrician. Our question to Dr. Torres was, ‘How many people in Dona Ana County have Parkinson’s?’” Hamilton said.
Dr. Torres replied that she did not know. She gave an estimation based off of averages from other states and estimated around 4000 people in Dona Ana County had Parkinson’s disease.
“Now, start calculating that. Four thousand people with Parkinson’s disease, we frankly think it’s more, but also think in the context of, we’re not just talking about Parkinson’s. We’re talking about Alzheimer’s, which is even a bigger population generally,” Hamilton said, “We’re talking about MS, were talking about ALS, and we don’t know how many.”
Without a disease registry, it is difficult to know exactly how many people suffer from different types of diseases.
“How can you devise good public policy without the knowledge of how many? And what kinds of demographic characteristics do they have? We know male, we know age, but we don’t know as much as we need to about the other risk factors, such as te pesticides that are in use in our community,” Hamilton said.
Parkinson’s effects many people every day. Just learning about the disease and its causes & symptoms really help out everyone.