Schizophrenia is a serious mental condition in which people interpret reality abnormally. The disorder can cause hallucinations, extremely disordered thinking, delusions, and an overall detachment from the real world.
Schizophrenia in elderly people, especially those who already suffer from dementia, can be disabling.
Delusional thinking, which is one of the major symptoms of schizophrenia in elderly people, causes individuals to think they are being stalked, followed, or in danger of being harmed.
These delusions are typical in elderly schizophrenia and dementia patients and are very real to the person experiencing them.
Schizophrenia in later life is emerging as a public health concern worldwide. It has been estimated that by the year 2030, the number of persons over age 65 with a major psychiatric disorder will be roughly equal to the number of people aged 30 to 44 with a similar disorder.
Many of these older adults were diagnosed with schizophrenia before the age of 45, and they continue to struggle with it as they age.
Research on schizophrenia in the elderly population has been sketchy, and literature regarding elderly schizophrenia and dementia patients is in short supply.
Symptoms of schizophrenia in elderly people are harder to identify if the aging individual is also exhibiting signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Let’s look at some of the signs of schizophrenia in the elderly.
- Hearing, feeling, or smelling things that no one else acknowledges.
- Odd feelings of things moving on their bodies, such as insects or hands.
- Feeling they are being followed or stalked.
- Thinking television characters are real and present in their space.
- Disorganized speech.
- Confused thoughts and inability to concentrate.
- Withdrawal or failure to participate in the activities of daily living.
As you can see, the symptoms are difficult to distinguish from some of the symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Though Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia are different disorders, new research suggests that both diseases may affect the same areas of the brain.
One significant difference in treatment is that there are medications available to treat schizophrenia that reduce the symptoms of the disease and improve the quality of life. In contrast, there are medications for Alzheimer’s Disease that can help with the progression of the disease in some cases, but the effects last only a few months, rather than years.
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So why are we seeing this upward trend in schizophrenia in elderly adults?
- As the United States population ages, the number of elderly people with schizophrenia is increasing.
- An early-onset diagnosis of schizophrenia usually persists throughout a person’s life, and life expectancy has risen since the time of diagnosis. This has resulted in many seniors who suffer from the disorder.
- The risk for developing schizophrenia-like psychosis late in life increases with age, poor social networks, isolation, cognitive impairment, or traumatic life events.
As baby boomers age, they will continue to need care and treatment for the mental health conditions they may have been battling since early adulthood. Psychotic symptoms are not uncommon in the elderly population.
The need for geriatric psychiatry is becoming more prevalent as the aging population in the United States increases. Research regarding treatment options and the use of antipsychotic medications for people over the age of 65 is ongoing.
Geriatric psychiatrists have extensive knowledge when it comes to treating mental health conditions in the elderly, and they are making strides toward providing the best possible care for our loved ones. You can contact your medical professional for a referral if you feel you need a psychiatric evaluation or treatment.