Can You Develop Schizophrenia Later In Life?

You've likely heard the term schizophrenia or schizophrenic, and while it's a hard word to forget, do you know what it is? Is schizophrenia something you should be worried about?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, schizophrenia is a brain disorder that affects under 1% of the U.S. population and is distributed relatively equally between men and women. Though schizophrenia may often be mistakenly associated with split personalities, that is not the case. Schizophrenia is defined by specific other "positive" or "negative" symptoms that may occur. Positive symptoms of schizophrenia are those that shouldn't be there, such as hallucinations, hearing voices, paranoia, and distorted perceptions. Negative symptoms are those missing, such as the ability to express emotion, speak, plan, or experience pleasure. Other symptoms may include disorganized behavior, abnormal movements, and trouble with logical thinking. These symptoms usually appear in early adulthood and persist for at least six months to be diagnosed, but can present earlier.

There is no cure for schizophrenia, but treatment can help manage the symptoms. Care for those with schizophrenia consists of psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy, antipsychotic medicine, and support for social skills, stress, and employment. The condition may only result in minimal symptoms, but with treatment, even more severe symptoms can be reduced to limit their impact on quality of life. So now that we know what schizophrenia is, is it something we should be worried about developing as older adults?

Schizophrenia can develop later in life

Researchers don't attribute schizophrenia to any definite cause, but believe it may develop from a combination of factors (per Mayo Clinic). Schizophrenia stems from either environmental stressors, genetics, or differing brain chemistry, including issues with neurotransmitters such as dopamine resulting in noticeable differences in brain structure in those diagnosed. 

Though schizophrenia usually appears in early adulthood, 20% of those with schizophrenia don't experience symptoms until after age 40, according to a study on late-onset schizophrenia. Late-onset schizophrenia (LOS) occurs when the condition develops between the ages of 40 and 60. While it has been proven that the condition can develop later in life, researchers are still trying to determine if LOS is the same as standard or early-onset schizophrenia (EOS).

Per the study, both occurrences of the condition have the same basic clinical profile, so symptomatically, they appear similar and are likely both the same illness. There are slight differences, though, that are still being studied to learn more, such as more women being affected by LOS, lower doses of antipsychotics being required, and fewer positive symptoms occurring. To be diagnosed with schizophrenia, a healthcare provider will perform tests to confirm that the condition is the source of any issues or symptoms you have (via Mayo Clinic). Tests can include psychiatric evaluations, brain imaging, physical exams, drug screens, and reviews of the criteria for the condition as dictated in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).