Worldwide, Schizophrenia is one of the top fifteen leading causes of disability in teenagers and young adults, typically affecting individuals under the age of thirty. It’s a tragic fate to befall any young person. But have you noticed an older loved one beginning to exhibit the symptoms?
If you think your loved one is well past the age of onset for schizophrenia, you may be mistaken. Late-Onset Schizophrenia is discussed very little and has become a problem that often goes ignored. This is to the detriment of those who may be suffering.
Early treatment from experienced mental health practitioners can make a major difference in the lives of adults experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia at an older age.
Do you know what symptoms to look out for? Read on to learn about how late-onset schizophrenia differs from traditional schizophrenia. Find out what you can do if you suspect that someone you love may be suffering.
What Is Late-Onset Schizophrenia?
If you haven’t heard of Late-Onset Schizophrenia, there’s a reason. Only about 1% of all published writing on schizophrenia focuses on older populations with the disorder.
The syndrome is characterized by hallucinations, delusions, disordered thought, catatonic behavior, and various “negative symptoms” that look a lot like depression. When these symptoms are first observed in patients over the age of forty-five, the diagnosis is considered to be late-onset.
In older populations, the most common symptoms are hallucinations and delusions, with negative symptoms and thought difficulties more common in younger patient populations.
Late-Onset Schizophrenia Triggers
What causes patients to begin exhibiting these symptoms later in life? It is believed that the syndrome has a genetic cause and can be “triggered” by events in the patient’s life.
A few factors can make an individual more likely to show symptoms of late-onset schizophrenia. Many of these factors tend to affect older adults, such as problems with vision and hearing. Adults who live alone or tend to be more isolated, such as after losing a spouse or loved one, often show symptoms.
Traumatic events can often trigger schizophrenia at any age, and the older adult population is no exception. Loss or a change can often be triggers for symptoms in adults over forty-five, especially senior citizens.
Even the recent Covid-19 pandemic may have been a trigger for some adults who are beginning to exhibit symptoms of the disorder.
Late-Onset Schizophrenia Symptoms
Here are the symptoms one may suffer from if they are experiencing late-onset schizophrenia.
One of the most common symptoms in cases of late-onset schizophrenia is hallucinations. Sufferers may have sensory hallucinations, such as phantom smells. They may also have visual or auditory hallucinations, such as hearing voices or seeing individuals who are not present.
Delusions are also a common symptom of the disorder. A delusion is different from a hallucination because it affects their beliefs.
For example, individuals suffering from schizophrenic delusions may believe that they receive messages through a television or radio. They may also experience paranoia, believing they are being watched, followed, recorded, or targeted somehow. The delusions are impossible or untrue, and the individual experiencing them cannot be talked out of them.
Disordered thought often presents through an individual’s speech. Has it become harder to follow their train of thought? Is their conversation disorganized, with leaps that don’t make sense to anyone but the speaker?
A lack of speech can also be a sign of disordered thought in people living with late-onset schizophrenia. Individuals with the disorder can experience thought withdrawal or thought blocking, which causes the individual to stop speaking, either in the middle of a sentence or at the end of a thought. If your loved one is unusually quiet, this may be something to consider.
Slurred or fast speech might also be a sign of schizophrenia in older adults.
If your loved one has completely stopped responding when spoken to, this may be a sign of catatonia. Catatonic patients often stop responding, even when spoken to directly. They may also fail to move, even when experiencing pain, and may fail to take care of their physical needs as a result.
Changes in Movement
Schizophrenia can also present as an excessive or unusual movement. It can look like repetitive behavior or gesturing, usually with no function. If your loved one is moving unusually without any ration cause, this could be a sign of late-onset schizophrenia.
Although rarer in late-onset patients, negative symptoms can sometimes be present in individuals with late-onset schizophrenia. Often, these symptoms will resemble the classic symptoms of depression.
Examples of negative symptoms might include new struggles with relationships, including previously close relationships. Sufferers may fail to engage in activities they previously loved. Even the tone of an individual’s voice might be affected by negative symptoms, becoming flat and atonal.
While it’s possible that your loved one is just sad or may actually be experiencing symptoms of clinical depression, it is also possible that these symptoms are a sign of changes in the brain. If you notice negative symptoms along with any of the symptoms above, don’t ignore them.
Treatment for Late-Onset Schizophrenia
If you have noticed these symptoms in your loved one or even in yourself, it may be time to seek help from a professional qualified to diagnose the disorder.
Professionals will often use talk therapy and psychotherapy, in collaboration with medication, to help ease symptoms.
Types of psychotherapy may include
- Individual Psychotherapy
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
- Cognitive Enhancement Therapy
Your mental health professional will help you choose the type of therapy most appropriate for you or your loved one. They can also discuss the right medications for you.
What to Do Next
If you suspect that you or a loved one may be experiencing late-onset schizophrenia, it’s time to get help. You should contact a mental health practitioner or seek help from a treatment center to begin the process of evaluation and treatment.