Perceptual Distortions in Young Adulthood May Predict Later Schizophrenia Symptoms

“Schizophrenia researchers have long been puzzled about why the illness normally begins in adolescence when important risk factors such as genetic loading and neonatal brain damage are present from birth or sooner,” wrote Colorado Recovery founder Richard Warner, M.D., in The Environment of Schizophrenia. “Many believe that the answer to this puzzle could tell us a lot about the cause of the illness.”

Schizophrenia is often diagnosed well into adulthood, typically from the late teens to early 40s.  Researchers recently found new clues in young adults that could help predict the severity of symptoms later in life. According to a study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, “Early detection of subtle, nonpsychotic forms of perceptual disturbance may aid in identifying individuals at increased risk for nonaffective psychosis outcomes in adulthood. Perceptual aberrations may constitute a useful endophenotype for genetic, neurobiological, and cognitive neuroscience investigations of schizophrenia liability.” 

Study author Mark F. Lenzenweger, Ph.D., of the State University of New York at Binghamton and Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City found that subtle differences in perception during their late-teen years predicted the development of hallucinations, delusions, and, in some instances, psychosis later in life. These early perceptual distortions included a heightened awareness of sound or color, uncertainty about the boundaries of one’s body, feeling that the world around them is tilting, and similar experiences.

“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. Anxiety and depression played no role in the development of psychotic symptoms in mid-life, Lenzenweger added.

The precise causes of illnesses such as schizophrenia are largely unknown, although genetics and brain-based factors are known to play an essential role. Approximately 3.5 million people have the illness in the United States, with an estimated annual healthcare cost 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.”

The Colorado Recovery treatment model emphasizes the experience of empowerment, the strengthening of social relationships, and overall support for people with schizophrenia to improve all aspects of their lives. Our treatment facility provides the services needed to address schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other serious mental illnesses which are specific to each individual. Call us at 720-218-4068 to discuss treatment options for you or the person you would like to help.