Schizophrenia is a complicated and misunderstood mental health condition that affects a person’s ability to think, feel, and behave clearly.
Affecting nearly 1% of the global population, it’s a topic that calls for continued education and open conversation.
With questions surrounding its longevity and progression, many wonder: does schizophrenia get worse as you age?
Let’s take a closer look at it.
Common Symptoms of Schizophrenia
Before we look into the effects of aging on schizophrenia, it’s important to understand the symptoms it causes.
People with schizophrenia can experience a range of disruptive symptoms, like:
- Sensory experiences that appear real but are created by the mind, like hearing voices or seeing things that aren’t there.
- Delusions. Strongly held beliefs, not grounded in reality, that might seem irrational or bizarre to others.
- Disorganized thinking. Impaired ability to organize thoughts and make decisions – often observed as speaking in a disjointed way.
- Negative symptoms. An inability to function normally, for example, a lack of interest in everyday activities or difficulty expressing one’s emotions.
These symptoms can create serious difficulties in the daily lives of those with schizophrenia and the people who support them.
Impact of Aging on Schizophrenia – Does Schizophrenia Get Worse as You Age?
Is Schizophrenia Progressive?
Research tells us that schizophrenia can be a progressive brain disease, and genetics and environment strongly influence it.
The progression might not be the same for everyone and schizophrenia won’t necessarily worsen as you get older.
For some people, symptoms can become less severe as they age, a phenomenon known as “burnout” of symptoms.
Although, for others, especially those with untreated schizophrenia — it can be severely debilitating in the long run.
Aging can bring about a risk of comorbidities, like cardiovascular disease or diabetes, making it difficult to manage schizophrenia.
That’s why consistent treatment and management are essential in helping people manage their symptoms properly throughout their lives.
Managing your condition properly can prevent it from worsening.
What Are the Causes of Schizophrenia?
Although the exact cause of schizophrenia is not known, there are genetic, brain chemistry, and environmental aspects that affect its development.
- Genetic factors. Schizophrenia tends to run in families, indicating a genetic component.
Although, no single gene is considered responsible. Instead, several genes may increase the risk of developing the disorder.
- Brain chemistry and structure. People with schizophrenia experience an imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain, specifically dopamine and glutamate.
Also, differences in brain structure, like abnormal brain development, could be responsible.
- Environmental factors. Certain environmental factors may increase the risk of developing schizophrenia.
These might be:
- Prenatal exposure to a viral infection.
- Low oxygen levels during birth.
- Early parental loss or separation.
- Physical or sexual abuse in childhood.
- Psychoactive drug abuse during adolescence.
Effective management of schizophrenia requires a multimodal approach. Healthcare professionals recommend the following options:
- Medications. Antipsychotic drugs can be essential for controlling symptoms.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy and other forms of counseling can help people cope with the challenges that come with psychosis.
- Self-care practices. Creating routines, practicing mindfulness, and partaking in community activities can be beneficial to overall health.
- Support system. Solidarity from family, friends, and mental health care providers can make a huge difference.
A very important aspect of living with schizophrenia is leaning on this framework of support and self-help strategies.
What Influences the Course of Schizophrenia?
Several things play into the course of schizophrenia, shaping its onset, severity, and prognosis.
Foremost among these are genetic predisposition and environmental factors.
- Genetic susceptibility, although not determinative, strongly influences the development of the disorder.
- Environmental stressors, like childhood trauma or drug abuse, can trigger the onset of symptoms in those already genetically predisposed.
- Cognitive factors also contribute to this. Cognitive deficits in attention, memory, and executive functions are common in schizophrenia and affect functional outcomes.
- Treatment adherence is another important aspect; discontinuation of medication can cause relapse or worsening of symptoms.
- Social factors, like the quality of social support and the person’s socioeconomic status, can also shape the course of the disorder. A strong support network can provide stability, while socioeconomic stressors can make symptoms worse.
- Concurrent medical conditions or comorbidities, for instance, drug addiction or depression, can complicate the treatment and prognosis of schizophrenia as well.
The interaction of genetic, environmental, cognitive, and social factors makes each case distinct, which emphasizes the need for customized treatment.
Does Schizophrenia Go Away?
Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health issue that usually persists and doesn’t go away on its own.
Still, with the right care and treatments, people can manage it.
Medicines, like antipsychotics, and talking therapies ease symptoms, improve life quality, and make episodes less recurring and severe.
It’s important to stick to your treatment plan because stopping medication or therapy can cause symptoms to return or get worse.
Early Detection and Intervention
Early detection and intervention in schizophrenia can be beneficial for altering the course of the disease, reducing severity, and possibly minimizing the long-term impact.
Identifying schizophrenia genetic links, understanding if schizophrenia hereditary factors are at play, and recognizing symptoms as they appear — especially in the case of late-onset schizophrenia — improves access to care which can stave off the most damaging consequences of untreated schizophrenia.
The blanket question — will schizophrenia get worse with age — does not pertain to everyone.
Each person’s experience with schizophrenia differs.
But with progressive treatment options, a strong support system, and ongoing education, people with schizophrenia can live meaningful lives.
By seeking help early and advocating for those affected, we can improve the lives of those affected.
Let’s continue to raise awareness about schizophrenia, support those in need, and dispel the stigma associated with mental health disorders.
If you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia, please reach out to psychiatric nurse practitioner Judy Vansiea, DNP, MA, MS, APRN, NPP, who provides treatment and support for schizophrenia at Coping Nurse Practitioner in Psychiatry Services, located in Uniondale, New York.
For additional information and resources on schizophrenia, consider visiting the National Institute of Mental Health.
Is schizophrenia degenerative?
Schizophrenia is not classified as a degenerative disorder. Yet, the symptoms and severity of the condition can get worse over time if left untreated.
Can schizophrenia kill you?
Schizophrenia itself is not fatal, but it causes risky behaviors or complications that can increase the mortality rate.
Is schizophrenia inherited?
Genetics is involved in the development of schizophrenia, but it’s not the sole cause.
The disease is usually caused by a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors.
Does schizophrenia cause memory loss?
Some people with schizophrenia can experience cognitive symptoms, as well as difficulties with memory.
Does schizoaffective disorder get worse with age?
The trajectory of schizoaffective disorder also varies. As some people age, their symptoms could diminish, but others may see little change.
What is a schizophrenia differential diagnosis?
A differential diagnosis for schizophrenia involves separating the disorder from other disorders with similar symptoms, like bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder.
Is schizophrenia inherited from mother or father?
It can be inherited from either parent.
What is schizophrenia late onset?
Late-onset schizophrenia refers to the disorder appearing after the age of 45. It has a different prognosis and symptoms than those in early-onset schizophrenia.
Does schizophrenia get better with age?
Some people observe less severe symptoms as they age. If left untreated, however, the condition can cause severe disability over time.