Treatment Options for Seniors with Schizophrenia

Jul 8, 2016

Treatment Options for Seniors with Schizophrenia

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Schizophrenia in the elderly is something that’s been highly ignored in the academic field. In fact, over 90% of all published studies on schizophrenia have excluded the elderly population in their findings and discussions. Despite this, approximately one-quarter of all schizophrenics will develop the disease after the age of 40. Late-onset schizophrenia can be even more difficult if you or your loved one is not prepared for it. Fortunately, there are a variety of treatments and solutions that will allow your loved one the ability to lead a normal life.

Symptoms of Schizophrenia in Seniors

Some of the obvious schizophrenia symptoms that you might notice in seniors are increased bouts of irritability or depression. Be sure to look at both ends of the mental health spectrum. If your elder is argumentative or combative, it might be an early sign of schizophrenia. Or, if your loved one becomes antisocial or sluggish, this could also be a sign of late-onset schizophrenia. It’s important to monitor the behavior of your loved one and to address any changes in their behavior as soon as possible.

Other symptoms include delusions, paranoia, and hallucinations. Often those suffering from schizophrenia will hear voices that can lead to them behaving erratically. It’s important to create a crisis emergency plan of action in case a schizophrenic episode becomes dangerous to you or your loved one. Have the phone numbers of your elder's doctor and therapist in case of an emergency. It is also important to notify a neighbor in case you have children that need to be watched during an emergency.

Treatment Options


There are a variety of medications that can be used to treat schizophrenia. These first-generation medications have frequent and potentially significant neurological side effects, including the possibility of developing a movement disorder (tardive dyskinesia) that may or may not be reversible. This group of medications includes:

  • Chlorpromazine
  • Fluphenazine
  • Haloperidol (Haldol)
  • Perphenazine

These medications also come in cheaper, generic versions that will also be sufficient. These antipsychotic medications will reduce the risk of psychotic episodes and will allow your senior to function with a lower chance of outbursts. Some side effects they may experience may be a “hazy” feeling, fatigue, and loss of appetite. It is also important to inform the doctor of any other medications your loved one is currently taking. The wrong concoction of pills can lead to dangerous and sometimes fatal side effects.

Medication Abuse

It’s also important to keep an eye out if your elder is abusing medication, alcohol, or amphetamines. Many suffering from schizophrenia will turn to alcohol or drugs as their own way to treat the disease or the side effects caused by the other medications. Abusing drugs or alcohol can have severe health consequences so be sure to recognize any change in behavior in your loved one during their treatment.


Your family and your doctor should make up two-thirds of the triangle support system. The third and final form of treatment should come in the form of a therapist. A combination of outpatient therapy and in-home visits will encourage your loved one to express their feelings, while still learning essential skills to allow them to cope with the disease.

Individual therapy will help your elder identify signs of an incoming outburst and how to cope with it. They will also teach social skills to help improve interaction between them and their family members as well as others. Some therapists will also be able to place you or your loved one in a living and/or working environment that will cater to their disorder. This will allow your loved one to still feel independent while still receiving the proper treatment and care they deserve.

Lastly, it’s important to continue to be the support system that your loved one needs. It can be a stressful and intense disorder to live with, so it’s important to understand the situation your loved one is in. Working together with your family, therapist, and doctors can create a team that will help your loved one enjoy a happy and fulfilling life.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How do I care for a senior with schizophrenia?

Caring for an elderly person with schizophrenia can be tough. Try to involve them in structured activities, interpersonal interaction, and routines. Do not directly challenge their false beliefs. Try giving them tasks or homework assignments to help build and retain skills to provide them a sense of empowerment.

Pharmacological agents and psychological therapy will be needed to aid mental health and counteract symptoms.

Elderly with schizophrenia may need more help with daily living (looking after themselves, transportation, taking care of their home, etc.). You may not necessarily be able to reach for a full recovery for the patient, but treating some of the symptoms and making life more meaningful to the patient is possible.

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What causes late-life schizophrenia? Have they always had it?

Though it doesn’t happen that often, schizophrenia can develop later in life. According to a study published by Stanford, whether late or early-life, schizophrenia is thought to have root in maladjustment in early childhood and other biological factors.

However, late-onset schizophrenia patients will experience more visual, tactile and olfactory hallucinations when compared with their early-onset counterparts. Late-onset schizophrenia hallucinations are often much more abusive, as they are hearing offensive hallucinations of insults in a running commentary with themselves. If you or a loved one has developed schizophrenia later in life, take comfort in knowing there are care options available

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