Schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s Disease: Mental Illness of the Young and Old Labeling schizophrenia as one of the most devastating mental illnesses, Dr. Stretton began his lecture explaining that his own son is affected by the disease. I have not been personally affected by schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s disease, but my sister suffers from bipolar disorder. It moved me to see the majority of the room raise their hands when asked, “How many of you have friends or family that suffer from a mental illness?” He followed this with a striking fact that 25% of all individuals will have a mental illness in their lifetime.
In my opinion, one of the most important takeaways from this lecture is the fact that both of these terrible diseases are minimally understood and have unsatisfactory treatments. Psychologists diagnose these individuals subjectively, using the DSM-V as their checklist, which Dr. Stretton referred to as a “blunt instrument”. The only treatment he mentioned for schizophrenia was antipsychotics, which have been used since the 1950’s.
They work to inhibit dopamine release in the brain to prevent positive symptoms like hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized behavior. However, the negative symptoms, like apathy, anhedonia, and alogia, remain untreated. Additionally, there are some irreversible side effects.
Advancements in genetic testing may provide some hope for the future treatment of these diseases. Schizophrenia is influenced by genetics to some extent, given that a person has a near 50% chance of having schizophrenia if their identical twin does. It has also been studied that schizophrenia is a polygenic disorder, and these influencing genes have been narrowed down to some that affect dopamine type 2 receptors, glutamate transmission, immune function, and voltage-gated calcium channels.
Alzheimer’s is caused in part by plaques in the brain created by aggregation of A-beta proteins. By manipulating genes that control A-beta production, researchers could potentially reduce the incidence of Alzheimer’s. Despite the obstacles that exist in terms of prevention and treatment of these illnesses, the current research serves as a foundation for future solutions.