What Is Late Onset Schizophrenia?

Published 12/07/2020

Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that is characterized by patients losing touch with reality. Most schizophrenic patients will experience hallucinations and delusions that will make it tougher to distinguish what is real and what isn’t. This condition is also closely associated with paranoia, and people who have schizophrenia often have extreme anxiety issues. The vast majority of people diagnosed with schizophrenia will have the condition present early in their lives. It would be pretty standard for people to start experiencing schizophrenia symptoms in their twenties, but that won’t be the case for everybody.

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Some people have what is referred to as late-onset schizophrenia, which means that they have been diagnosed with schizophrenia later on in life. More specifically, it means that schizophrenia symptoms have presented themselves much later in a person’s life than is standard. Late-onset schizophrenia is diagnosed when someone has schizophrenia symptoms develop between the ages of forty and sixty. As of the time of writing, it is said that around 20% of schizophrenic patients develop symptoms after the age of forty. Of course, it’s also worth noting that not all experts agree that late-onset schizophrenia is a meaningful diagnosis.

Presently, late-onset schizophrenia has not been added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). This is because doctors aren’t sure whether or not there is a true difference between late-onset schizophrenia and schizophrenia that presents itself earlier in a patient’s life. If there isn’t a meaningful distinction to make, it isn’t completely necessary to categorize it as something different. It’s indeed rarer for patients to develop schizophrenia after forty, but that doesn’t mean that the condition is any different from standard schizophrenia.

There is also a lot of debate about what age should be considered the starting point for late-onset schizophrenia if recognized as a specific condition. Some experts feel that forty is the right number, but many others argue that this is too young. Some feel that late-onset schizophrenia should start at age forty-five, but no consensus has been reached. It might be quite sometime before this matter is solved, and it isn’t completely clear whether or not late-onset schizophrenia will ever be completely accepted as a new type of schizophrenia.

People Used To Think That Early Onset Was A Requirement For Schizophrenia Diagnosis

In the past, doctors used to think that early-onset was a requirement for someone to be diagnoses with schizophrenia. They theorized that schizophrenia was a unique condition that happened early on in someone’s life and would become progressively worse over time. They felt that this was the best way to distinguish it from other mental health conditions that might present themselves as someone grew older. Specifically, it was a way to set schizophrenia apart from dementia since dementia patients can also experience hallucinations and delusions.

However, doctors eventually noted that some schizophrenia patients were developing schizophrenia symptoms much later in life than others. It completely changed how people think about schizophrenia, and it is now understood that age isn’t necessarily a factor that can influence diagnosis. Some people will follow the standard path and develop schizophrenia in their twenties, but it’s also possible for people to develop schizophrenia in their thirties, forties, or fifties. Knowing this, you can see why the term late-onset schizophrenia came to be, but that doesn’t mean that it is an officially recognized condition. Late-onset schizophrenia is really just schizophrenia.

Treating Schizophrenia Later In Life

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Treating late-onset schizophrenia will be quite similar to treating schizophrenia in other patients, but there might be some differences to consider. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that older patients might need to be monitored more closely when given certain medications. For instance, the effects of antipsychotic medications on older individuals. This often has to do with age being a factor that can influence most antipsychotic medications’ side effects. Older patients might report having more side effects than those who are taking the medications at younger ages.

Doctors are usually going to try to take a balanced approach to treatment plans when treating older patients. Medications will certainly be used to help people out, but they will be used very carefully to reduce the risk of causing harm to the patient due to side effects. The medications can be paired with effective psychosocial treatments such as therapy, and many older adults will thrive because of this. Therapy can help patients out in various ways, and it might be the most effective tool for managing schizophrenia in older adults.

Most therapy plans involve utilizing standard cognitive-behavioral models, and these can help schizophrenic patients develop better ways to cope. Over time, a patient will be able to learn how to change behavior patterns to react to situations as positively as possible. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can even help older adults with social skills training that will allow them to have better experiences when they have been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Overall, having a skilled therapist to work with will be a big part of managing late-onset schizophrenia. It’s certainly just as important as finding the right medications.

For the most part, patients will need to continue taking medication to help manage symptoms throughout their lives. There have been some rare cases of older adults discontinuing medication use while still using therapeutic treatments to cope. It’s more likely that medications will continue to be used effectively while doctors take a cautious approach. Everything is done on a case-by-case basis, and doctors will pay close attention to your health needs if you have late-onset schizophrenia. You can effectively manage your condition as an older adult.

Taking Care Of Physical Health Is Also Crucial

Taking care of your physical health is also crucial when diagnosed with schizophrenia later in life. Many people who develop schizophrenia as older adults will be more likely to be hospitalized for physical issues than they will for mental health complications. This means that taking care of your physical health and coping with your condition in the right ways will make a big difference. There are a lot of practical things that you can do to give yourself the best shot at feeling better. Most of them involve making life changes that will help you both mentally and physically.

You need to ensure that you’re eating a proper diet to give your body the energy it needs. Eating a lot of junk food isn’t going to be good for you, and lots of people struggle with this when diagnosed with schizophrenia. A schizophrenia diagnosis can come as a shock to many, and some might turn to eat to cope with negative feelings. You should try to avoid doing this, but it’s also important to try to change the types of foods you’re eating.

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Instead of eating a lot of junk food, it’s going to be possible to start eating healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. Try to eat a balanced diet that will meet your nutritional needs. Your doctor will be more than happy to give you nutritional advice that will help you to feel better. You can come up with a strong diet plan and do your best to stick with it. One effective way to avoid feeling tempted to binge-eat snacks is to not keep them in your home. If you only have things like carrots to snack on, that isn’t so bad.

Getting enough exercise is also going to be imperative, and you want to try to keep yourself in good shape. Exercise is also an effective way to manage your stress levels because it can help you get rid of stress positively. Channel your energy into working out regularly so that you can keep your stress levels in check. You’ll be able to boost your mood due to the positive endorphins being released in your bloodstream. It’s a simple way to make yourself feel happier that can also keep negative thoughts at bay.

Remember to use relaxation techniques when you’re feeling overly paranoid or anxious as well. Sometimes simple deep-breathing exercises will be enough to put you in a better place mentally. You can work on developing little coping mechanisms like this with your therapist over time. They’re very effective for helping you manage schizophrenia symptoms, and you’ll feel much more capable of getting through your daily life. Some people even go so far as to learn about meditation techniques, and even physical exercises like yoga can be quite helpful.

Keep an eye on your feelings of anxiety so that you can reach out for help if you feel like you need it. Sometimes taking an anxiety test is a good idea because it can show you how you’re feeling. Contact your doctor if you feel like your anxiety issues are becoming too much. It might be possible to make some changes to your medications. Anxiety issues and schizophrenia are often related because of the things you go through as schizophrenia.