What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a severe brain disorder which affects about one percent of the population. Those with schizophrenia may hear voices or have delusions. They also may sit for long periods of time without moving or talking.

New research shows a number of potential causes, ranging from genetics, the brain’s chemical makeup and substance abuse.

For those with schizophrenia, hallucinations and delusions may first start between the ages of 16 and 30. Men tend to experience symptoms a little earlier than women. It is rare for schizophrenia to be diagnosed in someone after age 45, rare in children and can be difficult to diagnose in teenagers.

About four percent of those with schizophrenia are diagnosed after age 65. Whether diagnosed earlier or late-onset, schizophrenia in older patients may include more disruptive behavior.

While people diagnosed with schizophrenia often have recurring bouts throughout their lives, the National Institutes of Health reports that researchers are making progress in new treatments and different ways to diagnose the disorder.

Schizo-affective disorder is a chronic mental health condition that features bouts of schizophrenia with a mood disorder such as depression.

What are the Symptoms of Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia in its early stages may share some of the same symptoms with other forms of mental illness: withdrawing, irritability, a change in grades or friends. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that schizophrenia will have the following symptoms present for at least six months:

Hallucinations: Hearing voices, seeing or smelling things that others can’t perceive.

Delusions: A false belief that does not change when confronted with facts.

Negative symptoms: May include being flat or dull and disconnected.

Cognitive issues/disorganized thinking: Difficulty remembering things or organizing thoughts.

It can be difficult to treat people with schizophrenia. Because they believe the hallucinations or delusions are real, they do not seek treatment. Hospitalization may be required if the patient is in the midst of an acute episode, or to introduce new medications or doses. In most cases, hospitalized patients will be treated with antipsychotic medication and involved in individual and/or group therapy sessions.

Initial diagnosis in an older adult will need to ensure that symptoms are not due to a comorbid condition, metabolic problem or medication. Older adults may require lesser doses of the medication and are more susceptible to extrapyramidal effects of antipsychotic medicines, such as muscle spasms, rigidity, shuffling and involuntary movements.

New research into the disorder is occurring, though schizophrenia in the elderly is not studied as frequently. Researchers also have called for specific research into pharmaceutical treatments in elderly patients with schizophrenia.

People with schizophrenia may have illnesses such as substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder or major depression. Treating schizophrenia often improves the co-occurring illness—and vice versa.

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