What Is Dementia Praecox?

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What Is Dementia Praecox?

Originally, dementia praecox was regarded as a condition that marked the early onset of dementia. This condition is no longer popularly described under this name. In fact, it has gone through a series of labels, from different variations of the French word ‘demence’ or loss of mind in the 1800s, to dementia praecox, and its current description, the mental disorder schizophrenia.

The term ‘dementia praecox’ was coined by the popular German psychiatrist, Emil Kraepelin. The term was popularized in an 1893 publication of a book written by him. In particular, he is noted for laying down early ideas on the causes and risk factors that can contribute to the emergence of schizophrenia.

Symptoms of Dementia Praecox

Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder that causes a warped interpretation of reality. It’s a complex condition that can affect reasoning, speech, or behavior, and is estimated to affect from 0.25% to 0.64% of people in the United States. Individuals with schizophrenia can exhibit the following symptoms.

Negative Symptoms

This is usually characterized by a loss of interest in everyday activities, as well as activities that typically produced pleasure in the individual. This symptom may sometimes be apparent from physical features, where a flat facial expression is noticeable. The tone of voice may also take on a flat, uninterested tone.

In addition, a lack of motivation for activities, school, work, or personal grooming may present itself.

Cognitive Symptoms

Dementia praecox or schizophrenia can affect mental abilities, resulting in difficulties concentrating, recalling events, or paying attention. It can also lead to problems with processing information, learning new things, or simply following the flow of a conversation.

Positive Symptoms

In particular, schizophrenia is known to cause hallucinations, where seeing, hearing, or smelling things that aren’t real becomes commonplace. It can also involve delusions or fixed false beliefs like having supernatural powers, or other thought patterns that do not align with reality. Schizophrenia may also lead to heightened suspicions, such as a fear of being followed.

Causes of Dementia Praecox

Schizophrenia is commonly observed in both males and females. This condition typically appears earlier in males, around adolescence. With females, it is usually noticeable in the early twenties to early thirties. There isn’t any one cause to explain the development of schizophrenia. This condition is usually the result of a mix of factors, including the following.

Pregnancy Complications

Diffficulties that come up when the fetus is developing such as bleeding during pregnancy, gestational diabetes, emergency caesarean section, oxygen deprivation, and low birth weight have been connected to the emergence of schizophrenia later on in life. 

This condition is also linked to disturbances to a fetus during an important stage of brain development — the second trimester. Likewise, where the mother goes through excessively stressful situations or experiences infections during this trimester, it can increase the risk of the child developing schizophrenia in later years.


Genetics may have a role to play in the development of schizophrenia, especially as it is more likely to occur in families with a relative living with the condition. However, it isn’t likely that there is anyone gene responsible for this condition. It is most plausible that different genes increase the risk of this condition emerging.

Environmental and Social Factors

The environment that an individual is raised can affect his chances of developing schizophrenia. Difficult circumstances like living in poverty, going through extremely stressful situations, malnutrition from birth, etc, can lead to this condition.

In the same vein, childhood trauma, belonging to a minority ethnic group, residing in an urban area, or living in social isolation can also increase the risk of developing schizophrenia.

Brain Structure

Schizophrenia is associated with the dysfunction of neurotransmitters. In particular, excessive dopamine transmission has been linked to increased chances of developing schizophrenia. Differences in brain structure and function may also trigger this condition, as may certain changes to the brain made during puberty.

This adolescent link is increased in people most at risk of developing schizophrenia, such as those experiencing difficult social and environmental challenges, or those with hereditary predispositions to the condition.


To diagnose schizophrenia, a doctor will perform a complete medical history and physical examination to rule out the chances of any other illnesses at play. This may also involve imaging studies such as MRIs or CT scans, and blood tests.

Where no physical conditions are discovered, a mental health professional will be recommended to examine the patient. A doctor may use a specified set of guidelines to make the diagnosis.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a person has to experience one or two of these symptoms over a significant portion of a one-month period:

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorganized speech
  • Disorganized or catatonic behaviors
  • Negative symptoms

The manual also specifies that anyone suspected of having this condition must also exhibit a reduced ability to function at work, in their relationships, or in simply taking care of themselves.


Due to the nature of schizophrenia, it may not always be possible to return to normal functioning once the condition has emerged. However, treatment methods are targeted at managing symptoms, preventing a relapse, and increasing the chances of the patient in re-integrating back to society.

This can be achieved using medication—the primary method of managing this condition, as well as psychotherapy.


To get this condition under control, antipsychotic agents are usually a first line of treatment. Where schizophrenia is suspected, it is important that pharmaceutical intervention is made early.

Clozapine is an antipsychotic medication that may be used when other antipsychotics are not adequately effectively. It does not require monitoring of white blood cell counts. Other types of medications such as antidepressants and mood stabilizers may also be used in combination with antipsychotics where appropriate.

Before any medication is used, it is important to first speak to a healthcare professional to receive care properly tailored to your needs.


In addition to medication, psychotherapy such as cognitive therapy may help with the management of this condition. Individual therapy, such as counselling, personal therapy, social skills therapy, as well as group therapies can also help with aspects of the condition.


Dealing with the everyday challenges of life with schizophrenia can be difficult. To help with managing this unique condition, participating in a combination of treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy, rehabilitation programs, and self-care can help your ability to perform daily tasks, and carry on a normal life with peers.

For families and significant others faced with the delicate task of caring for a loved one with this condition, enrolling in educational programs that teach about assisting a person with the illness, as well as understanding their predicament, can help with easing the load of care.

It also helps to join support groups, or take up therapy to manage the mental challenges of caring for a child, partner, friend, or family member with schizophrenia.

A Word From Verywell

Dementia praecox is a term previously used to describe the condition now known as schizophrenia.

A severe mental health disorder, this condition can lead to a warped interpretation of reality, and can significantly impact the person living with it, as well as those closest to them.

Schizophrenia is manageable, especially when caught early. Using measures like the appropriate medication, and using specialized forms of therapy, can help with improving the chances of a normal life for those who live with the condition.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Adityanjee, Aderibigbe YA, Theodoridis D, Vieweg VR. Dementia praecox to schizophrenia: the first 100 years. Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 1999;53(4):437-448. doi:10.1046/j.1440-1819.1999.00584.x

  3. National Institute on Mental Health. Schizophrenia.

  4. Patel KR, Cherian J, Gohil K, Atkinson D. Schizophrenia: overview and treatment options. P T. 2014;39(9):638-645. PMID: 25210417.

  5. Brisch R, Saniotis A, Wolf R, et al. The role of dopamine in schizophrenia from a neurobiological and evolutionary perspective: old fashioned, but still in vogue. Braun, Katharina, Kumaratilake, Jaliya. Front Psychiatry. 2014;5:47. Published 2014 May 19. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2014.00047

  6. Nimh.nih.gov (n.d) Schizophrenia

By Elizabeth Plumptre
Elizabeth is a freelance health and wellness writer. She helps brands craft factual, yet relatable content that resonates with diverse audiences.