The effects of aging on insight into illness in schizophrenia: a review

Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2014 Nov;29(11):1145-61. doi: 10.1002/gps.4154. Epub 2014 Jul 23.


Objectives: Impaired insight into illness is a prevalent feature of schizophrenia, which negatively influences treatment adherence and clinical outcomes. Little is known about the effects of aging on insight impairment. We aimed to review the available research literature on the effects of aging on insight into illness in schizophrenia, in relation to positive, negative, and cognitive symptoms. Ultimately, we propose a trajectory of insight in schizophrenia across the lifespan.

Method: A systematic Medline® literature search was conducted, searching for English language studies describing the relationship of insight into illness in schizophrenia with aging.

Results: We identified 62 studies. Insight impairment is associated with illness severity, premorbid intellectual function (i.e. IQ), executive function, and memory. Insight impairment improves modestly during midlife, worsening again in late life. It tends to fluctuate with each episode of psychosis, likely in relation to worsening positive symptoms that improve with antipsychotic treatment. The relationship between insight impairment and cognitive dysfunction appears to attenuate with age, while the relationship with lower premorbid intellectual function is preserved. The association between impaired insight and negative symptoms is unclear.

Conclusions: The available literature suggests that the course of insight impairment follows a U-shaped curve, where insight impairment is severe during the first episode of psychosis, modestly improves over midlife, and declines again in late life. Future studies are required to investigate the trajectory of insight into illness and its core domains across the lifespan from prodromal phase to late life.

Keywords: age; aging; denial; illness awareness; insight; schizophrenia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Awareness*
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Schizophrenia / complications*
  • Schizophrenic Psychology*
  • Severity of Illness Index