Schizophrenia affects the brain and can accelerate aging. With treatment and self-care, it is possible to keep symptoms at bay. Mindpath Health’s Julian Lagoy, MD, discusses and provides tips for managing schizophrenia as you age in this Psych Central article.
Symptoms of schizophrenia typically appear in late adolescence or early adulthood, and it is not clear whether the condition can worsen throughout a person’s lifetime.
Learning how aging impacts the progression of the disorder can help you or your loved one better understand treatment options and how to manage the symptoms
Does schizophrenia get worse as you age?
People with schizophrenia often experience a distorted reality that impacts relationships, social functioning, and other daily activities like work. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), these distortions can include:
- Disorganized speech or movements
- Trouble with thinking and motivation
Data from several studies suggest that people with schizophrenia typically experience the worst symptoms in the first episode of psychosis, followed by modest improvements over midlife and then a decline later in life.
A 2016 study indicates that the size of the brains of those living with the disorder tends to shrink more quickly than those with the chronological age of the brain itself. This may result in cognitive and emotional decline.
Some people living with schizophrenia may find that the effects of their medications have worn off. The reason is unknown, though one possibility could be the medication is no longer working. Another possible cause is altered brain biology.
Another factor that can contribute to the worsening of the condition is dementia. As cognitive decline can occur in people with schizophrenia and those living with dementia, those living with schizophrenia may experience further cognitive decline if they develop dementia later in life.
In fact, people living with schizophrenia may have twice as much risk of developing dementia than those who don’t have the condition. The relative risk seems to be particularly high in those with schizophrenia who are younger than 65 years old.
What is schizophrenia regression?
Successful treatment of schizophrenia requires medical interventions, such as medication and lifestyle modifications. In most cases, the right treatment plan works well.
Sometimes, though, symptoms can suddenly worsen or become more frequent despite medications and consistently following lifestyle recommendations.
Tips for managing schizophrenia as you age
Keep body and mind active
Julian Lagoy, MD, a psychiatrist with Mindpath Health says the advice he would give a person with schizophrenia who is getting older is the same advice he would give to someone who has a family history of dementia:
- Exercise often
- Engage in regular social interactions
- Maintain a healthy diet
“Taking these steps will help get the brain adequate blood flow and also reduce psychosocial stressors, which is a trigger for schizophrenia,” he says.
Nurture your network
Because symptoms of schizophrenia may cause you to feel disconnected at times, creating and maintaining a supportive social network is key to managing schizophrenia as you age.
Having a family member with you at doctor appointments can help you keep track of detailed changes in treatment and medications.
Find solace in structure
Maintaining a structured schedule and developing routines can be extremely helpful when symptoms become tough to manage. This is especially important for preserving and improving cognitive function in aging adults with schizophrenia.
Frequently asked questions
Does schizophrenia ever go away?
Schizophrenia never really goes away. There’s no cure for this complex psychological condition, but you can manage the symptoms.
At what age does schizophrenia become prominent?
On average, the age of onset for schizophrenia is the late teens to early 30s, according to the NIMH. If left untreated, schizophrenia can worsen at any age, especially if you continue to experience episodes and symptoms.
But aging can change the trajectory of how symptoms show up. In older adults with early-onset schizophrenia, aging tends to be associated with:
- Reduction of psychotic symptoms and risk of hospitalization
- Improved psychosocial function
- Less substance use
- Improved mental health-related quality of life
Although it’s less common for people to be diagnosed with schizophrenia after 40 years old, new information suggests late onset is becoming more common.
What’s the average lifespan of a person with schizophrenia?
Data from a 2013 study show the average life expectancy of people with schizophrenia is 12 to 15 years shorter than for those who don’t live with the condition.
Another study indicates the average life span to be 20 to 23 years shorter than those without the condition. Two potential causes of premature death include undiagnosed heart disease and cancer.
Does schizophrenia get worse if untreated?
Symptoms of schizophrenia rarely get better without treatment. Without the proper treatment, symptoms can occur more often and increase in intensity.
Untreated symptoms can contribute to other mental health difficulties, such as depression or suicidal ideation.
Read the full Psych Central article with sources.