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A new study has found that psychotic disorders like schizophrenia can increase your likelihood of developing dementia by 2.5 times.
A psychotic disorder is a severe mental illness in which one loses touch with reality. The patient's thinking and perceptions become distorted and they may experience hallucinations, delusions, cognitive difficulties, trouble with organization and speech, and social dysfuction.
Generally, mental health disorders tend to increase one's likelihood of developing dementia later in life. However, from the study, it is pretty evident that psychotic disorders like schizophrenia increase dementia risks more than other mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety.
As though that were not enough, psychotic disorders can also make dementia arrive earlier than usual. Dementia typically sets in after age 65, most times in the person's 70s. The average age of dementia onset in the United States is 83.7 years. But the study finds that dementia started earlier in people with schizophrenia, most still in their 60s.
So, what can we do with this information?
This finding adds to the list of changeable risk factors for dementia—that is, the risk factors that we can actually do something about. Before this study, researchers discovered that about 40% of dementia cases could be prevented or delayed by targeting the risk factors throughout life. PTSD, depression, and anxiety are some of those risk factors.
Now that we know that a disorder like schizophrenia even exposes a patient to greater risks of dementia, more attention can be given early and throughout life. By so doing, we may help prevent dementia cases in millions of people worldwide.
The research, published in Psychological Medicine, involved a systematic review of 11 studies from nine countries worldwide, with almost 13 million participants.
The study included people who were diagnosed with psychotic disorders early in life and monitored for decades. Many of them got dementia diagnoses as they grew older. The researchers also found that people with psychotic disorders were younger than average when they received their dementia diagnosis. Two of the studies showed that people with psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia were more likely to develop dementia early in their 60s. Furthermore, the relationship between dementia and schizophrenia was stronger than that between dementia and mood disorders.
One thing remains mind-boggling, though. The researchers could not identify the cause of the association between schizophrenia and dementia. Perhaps, it could be due to the mental disorder itself. But it could also be that these psychotic disorders put the patient in a condition that amplifies the risk factors of dementia.
Dr. Vasiliki Ortega, a joint author of the study, noted, "People with psychotic disorders are more likely to have other health conditions such as cardiovascular disease or obesity, which can increase the risk of dementia." It's also very common for patients to use hard drugs, smoke, and eat unhealthy diets, which can all contribute to dementia onset.
Since psychotic disorders like schizophrenia expose patients to several critical health conditions, managing the patient's overall health throughout life is very important. Therefore, while schizophrenia patients should quickly report any cognitive decline to their mental healthcare provider, these professionals should also look out for any signs of a decline.