Is Parkinson’s Disease Fatal?

When seeking an estimate of life expectancy for any patient, the first thing to understand is that the answer is never definitive. - A person is different, and there is no method to predict precisely how easily a chronic disease can progress, how badly it will affect the body, or whether there will be more complications along the way.

Parkinson’s Disease Is a Progressive Disorder

Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative condition that steadily progresses and mostly affects movement and, in some cases, cognition. Compared to healthy people of the same age group, people with PD can significantly reduce their lifespan. Patients typically start experiencing Parkinson’s symptoms around age 60, according to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Studies. After being diagnosed, many people with PD live for between 10 and 20 years. However, the age and general health status of a patient factor into the precision of this estimate.

Although there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, many patients are only mildly affected and require no medication for many years after their initial diagnosis. However, PD is both chronic, meaning that it lasts for an extended period and progressive, meaning that the symptoms intensify over time. In specific individuals, this progression happens more rapidly than in others.

Pharmaceutical and surgical Parkinson’s disease treatments can help control some of the symptoms, including bradykinesia (slowness of movement), rigidity, or tremor (shaking). Still, not much can be done to slow the overall development of the disease. Shaking, which affects most patients with PD, can interfere with everyday activities and the quality of life over time.


Is Parkinson’s Disease Fatal?

The fact that PD is not considered a fatal disorder is crucial to understand. Complications and the patient’s comorbid conditions are more life-threatening than PD itself, as is the case for Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. For instance, because Parkinson’s affects mobility, balance, and coordination, a patient’s risk of falling increases as the disease progresses. Falls among older adults are notoriously unsafe and a leading cause of injury and death. Another complication that can occur at any stage in one’s journey with PD is trouble swallowing, known as dysphagia. This can cause aspiration pneumonia, another leading cause of death in patients.

Since a person’s general health is a significant factor in the progress of Parkinson’s, lifestyle decisions are critical for prolonging both functionality and longevity. It is essential to have regular exercise, a balanced diet, proper treatment of pre-existing conditions and the prevention of new medical problems.

Owing to medical advancements in symptom control and the advancement of a holistic approach to patient care, Parkinson’s patients’ life expectancy has increased dramatically over the past few decades. Recent research confirms that a patient with PD onset at age 60 has an average life expectancy of 23.3 years (83.3 total years of age). This is directly comparable to the recent United States Life Tables as part of the National Vital Statistics Reports released in 2017. This study found that in 2017, the average person aged 60 could also expect to live 23.3 years on average, for a total of 83.3 years.

To understand PD symptoms, discuss treatment options, formulate a personalized care plan to improve one’s overall health, maintain a high quality of life, and avoid complications, it is essential to work with a well-rounded medical team.