Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and usually manifests around the age of 65 or after. The disease’s destruction of brain cells causes progressive problems with memory and other cognitive functions, such as spatial orientation, reasoning, language and abstract thinking. Individuals with Alzheimer’s experience many physical and psychological difficulties and often become anxious, agitated, aggressive and, at times, psychotic.
Scientists do not know how to treat the pathologic process that causes Alzheimer’s. However, psychiatric difficulties can be treated, and medications can slow the disease process, but only for months rather than years.
Schizophrenia is a psychotic illness that generally manifests in individuals between the late teens and the early 30s.
Symptoms include hallucinations and delusions (also experienced by individuals with Alzheimer’s), difficulty organizing thoughts and a decreased ability to show or express emotion. Additionally, individuals diagnosed with Schizophrenia have attention deficits, and problems with being able to use recently learned information. The inability to access recent memories is a somewhat smaller part of the illness, whereas in Alzheimer’s, memory problems are fundamental to the disease.
And, unlike Alzheimer’s disease, there are medications to treat Schizophrenia and significantly reduce the symptoms.
Though Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia are radically different disorders, new research suggests that each disorder affects the same areas of the brain.
When investigators at Oxford University examined subjects and performed MRI scans, they found that the regions of the brain that developed last were also the first to deteriorate with advanced age. These areas seem to be more vulnerable than the rest of the brain to both schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s, even though the two diseases have different origins and appear at almost opposite and very different times of life. Schizophrenia was once labeled “premature dementia,” and some researchers considered that the two conditions were linked. The Oxford study now confirms that the same regions of the brain are affected in Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia.