Schizophrenia is a severe and lifelong mental disorder that can cause debilitating symptoms, including delusions and hallucinations. For cases of schizophrenia in elderly adults, treatment protocols and long-term care needs can be quite different (and often more complex) than they are for younger or middle-aged patients.
If you have an elderly family member or loved one with a schizophrenia diagnosis, trying to navigate everyday life and find the right level of care for their unique needs can seem overwhelming – but please, don’t give up. Below, you can learn more information about schizophrenia in elderly adults, including symptoms, complications, care considerations, and more.
What is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that hinders a person’s ability to mentally and psychologically function in everyday life. People with schizophrenia often have trouble managing emotions, relating to others, making decisions, and thinking clearly.
Approximately 0.25% to 0.64% of adults in the United States have schizophrenia. Chronic schizophrenia can cause lifelong issues and severely impact the quality of life. However, with correct treatment and symptom management, people can live happy, healthy lives.
The onset of schizophrenia can occur at any age. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the average age of onset for men is from the late teens to early 20s, and for women, it’s between the late 20s to early 30s.
While it’s relatively rare for the very young and very old to develop schizophrenia, it is possible – of all the cases of schizophrenia, about 15 to 20% are late-onset. Adults over 45 can develop late-onset schizophrenia, which results in a higher prevalence of symptoms like delusions and hallucinations.
The number of elderly adults suffering from schizophrenia is steadily increasing. One study estimates that by 2030, there will be about the same number of adults with schizophrenia who are over age 65 and between the ages of 30 and 44.
What Are the Symptoms of Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia can cause a range of symptoms, which include the following:
- Hallucinations: The person may see, hear, feel, smell, or taste things that aren’t there, although they feel completely real. Auditory hallucinations are the most common.
- Delusions: The person maintains false beliefs that have no basis in reality, such as extreme paranoia, thinking someone is in love with them, believing they are famous or have superhuman abilities, etc.
- Disorganized Speech or Thinking: Sometimes, the person may be unable to communicate or answer questions. Their thoughts may be completely unrelated, or their speech may sound jumbled.
- Abnormal Motor Functions: The person may experience uncontrollable jerking movements or spasms or perform repetitive behaviors. Their mood may change drastically and frequently.
- Negative Symptoms: Someone showing negative symptoms of schizophrenia may have a flat affect, lack of emotion, loss of interest in activities, or neglect proper hygiene.
As you can see, many of the symptoms we just listed are very similar to other mental health disorders that frequently affect older adults, like depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, etc. When an older person with undiagnosed schizophrenia exhibits symptoms that mimic disorders like dementia, they’re unlikely to receive the proper treatment they need.
Senior citizens may be more likely to develop late-onset schizophrenia due to risk factors like cognitive decline, social isolation, significant lifestyle changes, physical health problems, or traumatic life events.
Schizophrenia in Older Adults: Important Considerations and Complications
Many experts believe that the aging process may impact the severity and type of schizophrenia symptoms. Older patients also have certain risk factors that make the successful management and treatment of schizophrenia more problematic than younger patients.
For example, schizophrenia in older adults may increase the risk of developing other health conditions, including:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Congestive heart failure
- Parkinson’s Disease
Older patients with schizophrenia aren’t just at risk of physical health conditions – this disorder can also impact their mental health and well-being. A dual diagnosis of depression or anxiety is common, and many elderly patients with schizophrenia can experience suicidal thoughts or ideations.
Another common complication in older patients with schizophrenia is their cognitive abilities and communication skills. Many senior citizens suffer from disorders like dementia or Alzheimer’s, which limits their ability to communicate.
With an illness like schizophrenia, the patient’s informed consent is often necessary to initiate treatment protocols. This presents a unique challenge for elderly patients with schizophrenia who can’t communicate effectively.
Treatment Options for Older Adults with Schizophrenia
The most common treatment options for schizophrenia in elderly individuals are a combination of antipsychotic medication and psychosocial therapy. However, as people age, their metabolism slows, so older adults frequently require different types and dosages of medications to help manage their symptoms.
Many seniors with schizophrenia have found that psychological and social therapy can have a profoundly positive impact on their quality of life, including:
- Community living
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Self-management and self-care
- Individual, group, or family therapy
For many families, the best option is transitioning their loved one to a facility that offers assisted living for the mentally ill. With the proper treatment, medication, therapy, social interaction, and positive lifestyle, many seniors with schizophrenia can enjoy a positive, healthy, and happy life.
It’s important to note that not every older person with schizophrenia experiences severe symptoms. Remission is possible! One study found that several adults over 60 with schizophrenia were able to achieve successful remission.
In addition, researchers stated that psychosocial interventions and rehabilitation-focused therapy (like what a patient would receive living in a specialized, long-term care facility) showed the most promise toward remission and healthy function.
Providing Quality and Compassionate Care for Adults with Special Needs
The complications of managing schizophrenia in elderly patients are numerous but not insurmountable. If your elderly family member has schizophrenia, trying to fulfill all their needs and find quality care for them can be challenging.
Here at Highland Assisted Living and Individual Care of Texas, we specialize in long-term care solutions for adults with mental illness, including schizophrenia. Call us now at (903) 356-4526 or (325) 675-5100 to speak with one of our staff members or schedule a tour of our facility.