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Early signs of Schizophrenia: New study tries to answer who is more at risk of developing psychotic symptoms in mid-life

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Schizophrenia is often diagnosed in adults, usually between the ages of late teens and early 40s. Are there any early warning signs that may assist identify who would acquire this severe mental illness?

This is a topic that clinical psychologists and psychiatrists have been pondering for a long time. A new study from Binghamton University’s Distinguished Professor Mark F. Lenzenweger and Weill Cornell Medical College may show the way.

In the study, recently published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Lenzenweger investigated the development of psychotic symptoms in 191 individuals with no prior history of psychosis. Participants were first assessed in their young adulthood (age 17-18), and then again in their mid-30s.

Lenzenweger discovered that small variations in perception in late teens predicted the development of hallucinations, delusions, and psychosis later in life. Early perceptual distortions included heightened awareness of sound or color, confusion about one’s body’s limits, a sense that the world around them is tilting, and other similar sensations.

“We discovered that people, who were free of psychotic illness at age 18, would show hallucination and delusion symptoms in mid-life if they showed many very subtle disturbances in their perception early on,” he said.

He went on to say that anxiety and depression have no bearing on the onset of psychotic symptoms in middle age.

Although heredity and brain-based variables are known to play an important influence in diseases like schizophrenia, the exact reasons remain unclear.

In the United States, about 3.5 million individuals suffer from the disease, with estimated annual healthcare expenditure of more than $155 billion.

“These new findings point to a specific focus for future research to drill more deeply into the biological factors driving psychotic illness and real-world experiences in the form of perceptual disturbances,” Lenzenweger said.

“Understanding the nature of such perceptual aberrations might provide more clues as to what is going on in the development of schizophrenia and other similar conditions.”

Image Credit: Getty

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