Aging can raise a person’s risk for developing certain mental health concerns, such as dementia. But how does getting older affect the symptoms of a disorder that a person is already living with? For example, does schizophrenia get worse with age?
What Are the Effects of Schizophrenia?
Before we can fully explore the question, “Does schizophrenia get worse with age?” it is important to understand the general effects of this disorder. People who have schizophrenia experience distressing symptoms that can negatively impact how they perceive their environment and communicate with other people.
When assessing a person who may have schizophrenia, most clinicians refer to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). The DSM-5 organizes the symptoms of schizophrenia into the following five categories:
- Disorganized speech
- Grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior
- Negative symptoms
The impact of schizophrenia can depend on which types of symptoms a person experiences, how severe those symptoms become, and what type of treatment the individual receives.
Unfortunately, most people who develop schizophrenia don’t receive proper treatment. The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that fewer than 33% of people with schizophrenia and similar mental health concerns get specialized mental health care.
In the absence of effective treatment, people who have schizophrenia may find it difficult or virtually impossible to form healthy relationships, find and keep a job, establish financial independence, and otherwise enjoy a full and satisfying lifestyle.
Does Schizophrenia Get Worse With Age?
Experts have discovered that a person’s age can be a factor in their risk for developing schizophrenia. Age can also affect the severity of the symptoms of this disorder.
Onset of Symptoms
As reported in a 2014 article in the open access journal Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine, most people who have the disorder begin to exhibit symptoms of schizophrenia between the ages of 16 and 30. When someone shows signs of schizophrenia before age 13, clinicians may refer to this as child-onset schizophrenia, or COS.
Gender can also influence the age at which a person begins to be affected by schizophrenia. A 2016 study in the Journal of Translational Neuroscience noted that men typically first experience signs of schizophrenia between the ages of 21 and 25, while women most commonly develop symptoms between the ages of 25 and 30. Women also have a sharp uptick in schizophrenia diagnoses between the ages of 45 and 49.
Severity of Symptoms
In many (but by no means all) cases, the answer to the question, “Does schizophrenia get worse with age?” is no.
A 2016 study of schizophrenia and aging from the Harvard Review of Psychiatry found that the negative symptoms of schizophrenia usually remain relatively constant throughout a person’s life. The 2016 study found that positive symptoms (delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, and disorganized behaviors) may worsen with age in some cases, but this is not a universal experience.
One of the reasons why it can be difficult to conclusively determine if schizophrenia gets worse with age is that both internal factors (such as the development of co-occurring disorders) and external influences (such as the quality of treatment a person receives) can influence both the intensity of the symptoms and the individual’s ability to function.
Sadly, one of the strongest correlations between schizophrenia and age is the significant negative impact that this disorder can have on the length of a person’s life. Several sources have reported that the life expectancy of someone who has schizophrenia may be as much as 25 years shorter than someone who does not have this disorder.
The lowered life expectancy of people with schizophrenia may be due to several unfortunate realities, including poor self-care, harassment and victimization, and an elevated prevalence of suicide. People who have schizophrenia can have considerable difficulties caring for themselves, following their doctors’ orders, and advocating on their own behalf. They are also much more likely to attempt suicide.
The impact of schizophrenia on lifespan underscores the importance of effective treatment and comprehensive support.
How Is Schizophrenia Treated in Nashville, TN?
Medication and therapy are two common components of treatment for schizophrenia. Antipsychotic medications can reduce delusions, hallucinations, and other positive symptoms of schizophrenia. Some antipsychotics can have strong side effects, so it can take time to find the right medication and the right dosage level for each person.
Therapy can help people manage the symptoms that are not alleviated by medication. Therapy can also help people make beneficial changes. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often incorporated into treatment for schizophrenia. This short-term, solution-focused therapy helps people identify negative thought patterns and self-defeating behaviors. During CBT sessions, clients can learn how to develop healthier ways of thinking and acting.
Social support services and family education can also be extremely important for people with schizophrenia. Regardless of their age, people who have schizophrenia may require considerable assistance in order to achieve the best possible quality of life.
Find Treatment for Schizophrenia in Nashville, TN
Arbor Wellness offers personalized services and comprehensive support for adults who have developed schizophrenia and other complex mental health disorders. The programs at our center in Nashville, Tennessee, include residential treatment, a partial hospitalization program (PHP), an intensive outpatient program (IOP), and outpatient care. At each of these levels, our patients are cared for by a team of dedicated professionals in a safe and highly structured environment. To learn more about our programs and services, or to schedule an assessment for yourself or a loved one, please give us a call or visit our admissions page today.