Late Onset Schizophrenia

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The vast majority of schizophrenics develop symptoms in their late teens or twenties, with men tending to develop symptoms at a slightly younger age than women. However, there are some people who develop schizophrenia during childhood or later in life. Diagnosis after age 40 is known as late-onset schizophrenia, and it is an object of interest to mental health researchers. While late-onset schizophrenia meets the same DMS-IV criteria as early-onset schizophrenia, there do appear to be some differences in how the disease presents. A diagnosis of late-onset schizophrenia is also sometimes complicated by the possible presence of other age-related mental disorders.

A 2010 study compared early- and late-onset schizophrenics to determine whether late-onset schizophrenia should be considered a distinct subtype of schizophrenia, eventually concluding in favor of it being a subtype. The researchers found that early- and late-onset schizophrenics were similar in terms of education levels, severity of depressive, negative, and deficit symptoms, crystallized knowledge, and auditory working memory. However, late-onset schizophrenics were more likely to be women, be married, have less severe positive symptoms (delusions and hallucinations), and have better everyday functioning.

Another study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, found that many people who develop symptoms of schizophrenia at age 50 or older show a fast decline into dementia. However, those that do not quickly decline tend to improve over time. Some research suggests that some people diagnosed with late-onset schizophrenia are actually experiencing a different, distinct disorder, which may explain the difference in outcome.

In general, the typical patient with late-onset schizophrenia tends to have functioned moderately well throughout their early adult life, despite showing some schizoid personality traits. They are more likely to show persecutory delusions and hallucinations of sight, smell and taste, and less likely to have disorganized thoughts and flattening of emotions. They also may be more likely to have hearing and sight impairment. In most cases, they respond well to low doses of antipsychotic medications.

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