For older patients with schizophrenia, the risk for developing dementia is twice as high compared to those without the severe mental disease, according to new research from Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University Center for Aging Research.
“Individuals with serious mental illnesses including schizophrenia appear to be living longer than earlier estimates suggested,” said study leader Hugh Hendrie, M.B., Ch.B., D.Sc., a geriatric psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry at the Indiana University (IU) School of Medicine. “This good news is tempered by the fact that they now have to confront the major disorders of the elderly, including dementia.
“Our finding that there was a significant difference in rates of dementia for those with schizophrenia and those without the disorder was quite unexpected. The reason for this difference is unclear and merits more intensive investigation,” said Hendrie.
“Is this related to an increase in dementia-related brain pathology or could it simply represent a misinterpretation of their symptoms by clinicians inexperienced in dealing with individuals who have difficulties communicating and are less likely to have reliable significant others to interpret for them?”
Schizophrenia patients also had generally higher rates of other serious illnesses such as heart disease and pulmonary disease, as well as higher death rates overall. An interesting exception was cancer, for which the rates for individuals with schizophrenia were significantly lower.
This study, published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, followed more than 30,000 older adults (average age of 70) for a decade. The findings also showed that hospital admissions, hospital lengths of stay, nursing home facility use, and nursing home length of stay for patients with schizophrenia were significantly greater than for those without schizophrenia.
The authors added that the rising numbers of older people with serious mental illness, particularly schizophrenia, could create a serious burden for our health system. New models of health care that link the health and mental health systems will be needed to cope with the problem.
“People with serious lifelong mental illness have a life expectancy that is 20 to 25 years less than people without mental illness,” said study senior author Christopher M. Callahan, M.D, a Regenstrief Institute researcher and founding director of the IU Center for Aging Research.
“However, many persons with these illnesses are now living into their 70s and 80s, and our health care system has very little experience in organizing their care in an effective manner. This study shows the major challenges we face in providing excellent care to these older adults.”
Source: Indiana University