Older Fathers, Schizophrenic Children. Part 3

“What we’ve done is move the idea of paternal age and new genetic mutations in regard to schizophrenia from the category of ‘It-couldn’t-possibly-be’ to the ‘There’s-a-remarkable-association’ category,” says Malaspina. “This is a remarkably complicated disease.”

Schizophrenia is not only complicated, it can be devastating — both to the person diagnosed and to his or her loved ones. Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe and debilitating brain disease. About 1 percent of the total world population develops schizophrenia during their lifetime. In any given year, more than two million Americans suffer from the disease, according to the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md.

Both men and women suffer from it, but men usually develop symptoms earlier — usually in the late teens and early 20s. Women generally develop symptoms in their 20s and early 30s. It’s rare in young children. Researchers are still unclear about what actually triggers the onset of the disease.

“As the brain grows, it prunes itself back a bit — usually in late adolescence,” says Kathleen McKenna, M.D., director of the Psychosis and Special Diagnostic Program at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Ill. “It could be this event — or maybe a hormonal change at late adolescence — that triggers the disease because it tends to develop in young adulthood.”

Early signs of schizophrenia can include drastic changes in behavior, such as social withdrawal and an inability to focus or think straight. Schizophrenics may experience emotional high and lows. Symptoms can escalate to terrifying psychotic episodes in which sufferers hear voices, become paranoid, have hallucinations and delusions and talk nonsensically. Medications and treatments can help reduce and manage the symptoms.

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