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What's the difference between schizophrenia and Alzheimer's?

23 answers | Last updated: Aug 06, 2015
Chad asked...

What's the difference between schizophrenia and Alzheimer's? I'm seeing some of the same symptoms, and am getting very scared.


Caring.com User - Ken Robbins, M.D.
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Kenneth Robbins, M.D., is a senior medical editor of Caring.com. He is board certified in psychiatry and internal medicine, has a master's in public...
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Ken Robbins, M.D. answered...

Schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s Disease are both diseases of the brain that can cause dramatic symptoms. They are different in many ways, but there are some similarities. Both can be associated See also:
My Mother is having VERY real memory problems...I called the...

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with psychotic symptoms. That is, they can include hallucinations or delusions. Hallucinations are false sensory perceptions, which can involve someone believing they are seeing things, hearing things, touching things, or smelling things, but these perceptions are not real. Delusions are fixed false beliefs, such as someone believing they are being followed, believing they are not human or believing they have a terminal illness, though there is nothing to support the accuracy of the beliefs. Furthermore, both diseases can interfere with thinking, as will be discussed below. Their differences, however, are far greater than their shared features.

Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common cause of dementia. It is the cause of about two thirds of dementia in this country. This is a disease that only rarely manifest itself before age 65. By the time people reach age 85, about 40% of people in this country can be diagnosed with this disease. Alzheimer’s Disease destroys brain cells and as a result, it causes progressive problems with memory and other cognitive functions. For example, it can cause problems with spatial orientation, reasoning, abstract thinking, language and planning. As it gets worse, it causes problems with social functioning, hobbies, work and even with performing activities of daily living. There are many psychological difficulties that are experienced by people with this disease. Depression is very common, especially early in the course of Alzheimer’s Disease. People can also become anxious, agitated, aggressive and psychotic as the illness progresses. These associated psychiatric difficulties can be treated, but unfortunately we do not know how the treat the pathologic process that causes this disease. There is a class of medications called cognitive enhancers that can slow the disease process, but only by months rather than years.

Schizophrenia is a psychotic illness that generally becomes manifest between the late teens and the early 30’s. The symptoms of schizophrenia include hallucinations and delusions, as well as difficulty organizing thoughts. Symptoms can also include a decrease in the ability to show or express emotion and problems with particular cognitive functions. These functions can include problems with attention, planning and organizing thoughts, and can include problems being able to use recently learned information. This loss of accessing recent memories is a relatively small part of the illness, whereas with Alzheimer's Disease, memory problems are fundamental to the illness. Fortunately, with schizophrenia we have medications that can treat the illness and markedly reduce the symptoms.


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nursesp answered...

The answer given by the physician was not good enough.


All I can see so far is the short term memory is different is better for the Alzheimer patient. Short term memory is a problem with schizophrenia. What else is different?


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Rhondabonda answered...

My mother has Alzheimer's and lives with us (we're on year seven). I am responsible for her care. Our son was just hospitalized with what they think is Schizophrenia. My husband and I see some similarities in the way both my mother and son reason. There seems to be some similarity in the fact that they both have difficulty not only with reasoning, but everyday tasks. I know that in Alzheimer's the brain has plaque growth, but does this occur with Schizophrenia? My son is not the same as he was several years ago. He began having difficulty with normal adult life (jobs, taking care of his room, self, etc.) right after he graduated from college. He has been seeing an orthomolecular physician who has prescribed mega doses of vitamins and he also is supposed to use a CPAP machine for breathing at night. If he misses his medication or vitamins or the breathing machine, there is a noticable difference in his capabilities. He is employed and supports himself, which is a huge step in the right direction as he stumbled through life for five years before we realized exactly what was wrong. If anyone else has any insight as to how to help him (or my mother), I'd love to hear it. Thanks! Rhondabonda


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Emily M. answered...

Hi Rhondabonda,

Thanks for your question. Sorry to hear about your son's and mother's diagnosis. That's a tough situation! To answer your first question, there are no plaque growths in schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is thought to be caused primarily by a dopamin imbalance in the brain.

We have a few articles about schizophrenia that you may find helpful here: https://www.caring.com/schizophrenia

I hope that helps!



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renz answered...



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Emily M. answered...

Hi anonymous, thank you for your question. If you'd like, you can post new a question in our Ask & Answer section, here ( https://www.caring.com/ask ). I hope that helps! Take care, Emily | Community Manager


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Illawarrian answered...

Dealing with my mother who has Alzheimers seems no different from dealing with acquaintances I've known over the years with schizophrenia. I read all these innocuous descriptions of Alzheimers - memory loss, confusion, inability to complete tasks, trouble dressing self - and I think, this is nowhere near the true picture. I'd call it a dishonest description of the disease, designed not to alarm potential caregivers with the terrible truth. I am having to put up with my mother's hallucinations, false beliefs, extreme paranoia, imaginary stalkers, anger and threatened violence. She tried to break a window tonight because I wouldn't unlock the door and let her out to rescue a cat she imagined was screaming. Then she started accusing me of throwing the cat out onto the road to be killed. She is quite mad and a danger to herself and everyone else. I'm not mincing words here, my mother is insane. Dehumanising terminology maybe, but the simple truth. For months I have tried all manner of natural therapies and exercise while things continue to deteriorate and I am nearly out of my mind. And by the way, her memory isn't bad at all, she can dress herself, make breakfast, remembers all friends and relatives and goes walking without getting lost. Don't you try and tell me Alzheimers is about memory loss. Time for the heavy-duty drugs.


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baby boomer daughter answered...

Your experience with Alzheimers &your mom is exactly what I am going through with my mom now. We as a country better deal with this disease and soon....I am a baby boomer & worry about the immense cost to our economy, our health care system, and our family structure as millions of us develop dementia & Alzheimers in the near future!


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Susiwongi answered...

illawarrian it sounds very much like you mom has schizophrenia. please get this checked out soon. there are a lot of drugs that can help her and she can lead a fairly normal life, like my mom.


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Linked answered...

My mother has Alzheimer's (onset age 55) and my son has schizophrenia (onset age 21). I understand that Alzheimer's has a link with plaque and schizophrenia appears to be dopamine related. Both diseases appear to affect the exact same part of the brain, no matter the cause. If I were a research scientist, I would explore the connection. There is no history of mental illness on either side of the family. There is a definite history of Alzheimer's. I truly believe there is a connection but of course I keep reading that there isn't. We are struggling, but it is what it is. We must move forward trying to help my mom live a 'comfortable' rest of her life and trying to help my son live a 'stable' life. And hopefully science will help the next generation.


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Illawarrian answered...

Linked I believe you are spot on. Alzheimers causes schizophrenia. There is no schizophrenia in my family and my mother never had it before the age of 85 but she has schizophrenia now and is on antipsychotic medication, which is working well. I definitely believe these two diseases are somehow linked. Since people can have plaque and no Alzheimers I believe they are barking up the wrong tree with the plaque theory.


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DanaJoyce answered...

I agree that there is a "link" between the Schizophrenia and Alzheimers! My Mother (87) has suffered from schizophrenia for years... though never would go to a Doctor to get and "official" diagnoses. I am now her legal Guardian and have her in a skilled nursing home and the staff calls her mental problem Alzheimers .... Maybe the symptoms appear to overlap but we who lived with her know she was delusional and paranoid for years. She also had a Sister who was diagnosed as well. She is on an antipsychotic now. I wish it were easier to distinguish the difference .... the present medical community is very lacking in targeting and treating both.


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Illawarrian answered...

We've finally found an antipsychotic that works for Mum. She's in a nursing home, now 88 years old. She's a lot calmer. She never had psychotic episodes until the Alzheimers took hold. Maybe some people get schizophrenia with the Alzheimers for some reason. Researchers should be looking at the link.


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Bethfa answered...

Anyone caring for a loved one with dementia or alzheimers and who is also showing signs of schizophrenia may want to look into the possibility that it is actually a form of dementia called Lewy Body Dementia and not alzheimers. Another symptom of this form of dementia is parkinson.


Helen57 answered...

I read a study in a medical journal a few years ago. Both Alzeimers and Schozophrenia brains have a substance the researcher named "reelin" because when mice are given the cells they move like they are dancing. As of about 5 years ago they didn't know anything about the chemical( was it the cause or effect of the disease? All I know is my mother in law and her father both died of Alzeimers and my husband has a nephew that is schizophrenic. There is definitely a genetic component but the research about the connection between the two diseases has just begun


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Mark61 answered...

My brother has Schizophrenia but refuses to admit it so he wont seek help.He is in his mid 50's and from what he has told me he started hearing things in his late forties. He still believes that just because no body else can see or hear the things he does that doesn't mean they are not real. My mother who lives with me now and has for 2 years has Dementia. She sees people that aren't there tells me stories of things that have never happened and talks about many different things at once to name a few. It scares the heck out of me thinking I may be next and my kids will have to see me like that instead of the man I am now. Blazer97 it would be nice if it was that simple. I am not saying that does not contribute to the problem but so does a host of prescribed drugs so many people take. The poor diet given to us through the food industry. The chemicals we kill weeds with and feed our lawns with that get into our drinking water. The vaccinations that are pushed on us. Until we humans clean up our planet and stop looking for a pill to cure the side effects of what we do to it this problem will continue to get worse.


Illawarrian answered...

Mark, we are all terrified that we will be next go have dementia and our kids will have to see us like that. It's very unusual to get schizophrenia in your late 40s. Are you sure he hasn't got a brain tumour or some other problem?


Franklin123 answered...

I cant answer specific posts. This whole discussion is helpful. I have a relative who cut herself off from all contact for years and phoned me out of the blue. (age 77). The first conversation demonstrated she had dementia, ie relative still alive, and what followed in subsequent weeks altered my perception that she has paranoid schizophrenia which was always suspected but kept under control most of the time. So past history was Episodic and only known (or suspected) by close family members, but with a difference insofar it began in childhood and in later years appears after loss of a family member or stress. This is somewhat confusing until I asked Dr Google "can Dementia coexist with Paranoid Schizophrenia" and came to this site. It will be impossible to get any intervention, as her paranoia is about people believing she is a mad woman and plotting against her and her belief that she still has a sharp mind. Distance is also a problem so no face to face contact. What I would like to know is why the behaviours were so apparent in childhood with acute aggression and extreme violence when P.S. has a specific age group for onset of symptoms . I believe the control of the PS is handled by distancing herself from people.