Do BPD Symptoms Decline With Age?

Severity of BPD symptoms seem to decrease as a person ages

Older man reading book on dock at lake
Tom Merton

If someone you know has borderline personality disorder (BPD), you may have noticed that as that person grows older (into his or her last 30s and 40s), their symptoms seem to decline in frequency and severity.

In fact, this a common phenomenon among those with BPD and has become a major subject of research among healthcare professionals and psychiatrists. 

While researchers are not exactly sure why BPD symptoms decline with age, some experts have suggested some potential reasons, including burn out, learning, and avoidance of relationships.

These can be linked to both biological and environmental factors. 

Burn Out in BPD

Some experts have speculated that BPD symptoms decline because the symptoms naturally “burn out” or that people simply grow out of the symptoms as they mature. In particular, research has shown that the impulsivity symptoms of BPD are the most likely to decline over time. This is consistent with the observation that, in general, older people engage in less impulsive behavior, even if they do not have BPD.

It may be that as we age and mature, the urge to engage in impulsive behaviors slowly goes away, allowing us to make more measured and rational decisions. Just as partying all night loses it's appeal for many in their forties and fifties, impulsive or reckless BPD behaviors may also seem less natural. 

Learning in BPD

Other experts think that BPD symptoms may decline because as you age, you learn how to better manage your symptoms.

For some people, this learning may come as the result of intensive treatment, but for others, this may be the result of the natural learning that comes from negotiating life’s challenges.

Through experience and trying different treatment options and coping skills, you may be able to decrease the severity of symptoms or handle them before they start.

This is similar to learning any skill—with practice over time, it becomes easier to accomplish. 

Avoidance of Intimate Relationships in BPD

Finally, experts have speculated that BPD symptoms decline because, over time, a person with BPD may learn to avoid situations that trigger symptoms. For example, for many people with BPD, problems in interpersonal relationships trigger the most intense reactions and symptoms. As a result, people with BPD may start to avoid interpersonal relationships altogether in order to reduce their distress. This has been referred to as being "comfortably alone."

While some people have reported success with this approach, it is hardly considered a solid treatment option. Avoidance and living a solitary life are not considered healthy approaches to BPD, but does play a role in decreasing symptom frequency. 

Another Perspective On This Link

It is important to note that some experts dispute whether it is a person's age or simply the duration of time he or she has had BPD that is linked to the decline in their symptoms. In other words, is it the age of the person that predicts their symptoms, or how long they have had BPD?

Also, it is important to understand that while BPD is often thought of as a younger adulthood disorder, there are a group of people who meet the criteria at an older age (40 to 60 years of age), as suggested by a study in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.

In this study, older people with BPD were more likely to exhibit feelings of chronic emptiness and have higher degrees of social impairment. They were less likely to have impulsivity, engage in self-harm, or have rapid shifts in mood. 

A Word From Verywell

While there appears to be a link between age and decreased symptoms in BPD, research has yet to identify the exact cause. Whether it is a result of natural maturation or a change in brain chemistry over time, scientists continue to look for the association as it may have a significant impact on diagnosing and treating people with BPD in the future.

 

If there is, in fact, a change in the brain chemistry, it could mean that potential medications could mimic this effect and help lessen symptoms. 

Sources:

Morgan TA, Chelminski I, Young D, Dalrymple K, Zimmerman M. Differences between older and younger adults with borderline personality disorder on clinical presentation and impairment. J Psychiatr Res. 2013 Oct;47(10)

Shea T et al. Improvement in borderline personality disorder in relationship to age. Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2009 Feb;119(2):143-48.

 

Continue Reading