For most people with schizophrenia, the condition spans a lifetime.
Symptoms often begin in the teen years with periods of greater intensity from time to time. As you get older, complications can emerge. This mainly happens because schizophrenia affects your whole body, not just your brain.
What should you expect from this mental health condition, and how could your treatment plan change as you age? This article explores these topics and offers some guidance on how to best move forward.
Research suggests that the severity of your symptoms may have more to do with the age you were when your symptoms first started than the age you are now.
Still, people with schizophrenia tend to age faster than the general population. This is likely due to a combination of factors and not just the disorder itself.
According to a
Oxidative stress is linked to schizophrenia but isn’t necessarily the result of the condition itself. It’s probably linked to schizophrenia-related factors like:
- lower income and economic stress
- medication side effects
Symptoms in later life
Symptoms of schizophrenia are usually divided into three groups:
- Positive symptoms. These are symptoms that most people without schizophrenia don’t experience. They are usually symptoms associated with psychosis, such as hallucinations and delusions.
- Negative symptoms. These are things present in most people but absent in people with schizophrenia. Examples include an inability to feel joy (anhedonia) and a lack of motivation (avolition).
- Cognitive symptoms. These symptoms are related to learning, memory, concentration, and decision making.
It’s unclear how positive and negative symptoms progress with age. When looking at people with schizophrenia during later stages of life, a
People with schizophrenia also tend to have a lowered ability to think during older age than people without, according to
Lower cognition may mainly result from a significant decline that happens when schizophrenia first starts.
Remission is a period of 6 months or longer when your symptoms are less severe. The symptoms healthcare professionals are likely to consider are:
- disorganized thinking
- blunted affect or little emotion
- social withdrawal
- inability to be spontaneous
- repetitive movements or mannerisms
- unusual thoughts
Remission is possible for many people. In fact, a
What makes the difference for many people? Social support. Having a partner, family, or community to help you manage symptoms has a big impact on the likelihood of remission. For that reason, it’s important to strengthen support networks around people with schizophrenia.
People with schizophrenia have a lower life expectancy than the general population. The
That number is influenced by many different health factors, some of which you may be able to control, such as smoking.
People with schizophrenia have a higher risk of developing certain health conditions as they get older. This is partly because healthcare professionals may overlook signs of physical illness in people with a mental health condition. It can also be easy to neglect your physical health if you’re dealing with other effects schizophrenia has on your life.
Here’s what we know about the health risks linked to schizophrenia:
Congestive heart failure
Schizophrenia affects your heart. It can change your heart rate and raise your risk of congestive heart failure, according to a
When you have congestive heart failure, your heart loses its ability to pump blood as well as it should. That means your organs don’t get the oxygen-rich blood they need to work properly.
Often, when someone with schizophrenia dies at an earlier age than expected, it’s because of cardiovascular disease (CVD).
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is more common among people with schizophrenia than in the general population, according to 2019 research. Some researchers think this could be because people with schizophrenia tend to smoke more often and for longer periods than the general population.
When you have COPD, your airways become blocked. This makes it more difficult to take deep breaths.
The risk of developing diabetes is two to five times higher if you have schizophrenia, though the relationship between these two conditions is complex.
Medication side effects and the amount of physical activity you get both play a role. Some people with schizophrenia still develop diabetes even if they’ve never taken antipsychotic medications, though it’s unclear why.
People with schizophrenia may have a higher risk of developing dementia later in life, according to
It may be that other health conditions, like diabetes and CVD, make dementia more likely. It could also be influenced by medication side effects, the use of alcohol or tobacco, or low physical activity.
Some researchers think that schizophrenia affects your memory and thinking abilities more as you age.
Parkinson’s disease is a health condition that affects your nervous system. This condition disrupts your ability to walk, balance, and move. People with schizophrenia have a greater risk of developing Parkinson’s disease as they get older, according to
Medication side effects may be part of the reason. It’s also likely that schizophrenia affects the amount of dopamine your body produces. Dopamine is a key brain chemical that aids movement.
It’s important for people with schizophrenia to have regular cancer screenings. Early detection is often key to a successful treatment.
Older adults with schizophrenia sometimes experience additional mental health conditions at the same time. For example, anxiety and depression can sometimes increase with age.
People with schizophrenia have a higher risk of suicidal thoughts and actions. A
Some medications that have been shown to lower the risk of suicide include:
Antidepressants can also help. A mental health professional will help best determine a treatment plan if medication is needed.
Other interventions may help manage suicidal thoughts or symptoms of depression and anxiety. These include:
- social support networks
- teaching positive coping skills
- behavioral therapy
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please reach out. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with someone who can help.
The best way to improve your mental and physical health as you get older is to stick with your treatment plan. It’s also important to keep up with annual screenings so you can detect any other potential health conditions that need to be treated.
As you get older, you may not need as high a dose of antipsychotic medication. In fact, antipsychotic medications can cause different side effects in older adults. They may even lead to a decline in your reasoning abilities.
If you’re noticing new symptoms or side effects, it’s a good idea to speak with a healthcare professional. They may recommend a lower dose or a different medication.
The quality of your life as an older adult with schizophrenia can be markedly improved with psychological and social treatment methods. In fact, 2014 research suggests you may enjoy more positive social interactions as you get older.
These interventions may help you stay connected and feel supported:
- cognitive behavioral therapy
- functional adaption skills training
- community living training
- supported job skills training
- cognitive behavioral social skills training
- financial management training
- self-management and self-care strategies
- group, individual, and family therapy
You may want to consider living in a health home to make accessing these types of treatment programs easier. Health homes are a program of Medicaid offering support for people with chronic illnesses.
To lower your risk of disease and improve your mental and physical health, it’s important to maintain a balanced diet, avoid tobacco products, and get plenty of exercise — outdoors, if possible.
These guidelines are important for everyone but can have a powerful impact on the lives of older adults with schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia presents some serious challenges to the health and well-being of older adults. In some cases, it increases the risk of an earlier death. You may develop health conditions that affect your heart, metabolic system, lungs, or mobility. You may also have to cope with depression or anxiety.
Even so, there are steps you can take to manage your risks and improve your quality of life. Building a strong connection with your family, friends, and community is one. Having annual health screenings is another.
You can also look after your health day to day by eating well, staying active, and avoiding tobacco products. Perhaps the most important thing you can do to improve your outlook is to keep up with your schizophrenia medications and the rest of your treatment plan.