Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may occur in individuals with dementia. People typically receive an OCD diagnosis before they develop dementia. However, dementia can cause OCD symptoms to worsen over time.

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This article will examine how OCD and dementia affect memory, the relationship between the two conditions, and whether there is a link between them. It will also look at its diagnosis and treatment options.

OCD is a condition where people experience uncontrollable recurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions).

These can show up in the form of intrusive thoughts or rituals. Individuals with this condition cannot control these behaviors. In many people, the symptoms of OCD can interfere with daily life.

Symptoms of OCD can vary widely between individuals. However, one compulsion that people with OCD may experience involves checking something repeatedly. This could include repeatedly checking that they locked a door or turned an oven off.

This repeated checking has led some researchers to believe that OCD may involve memory issues. Checking the same things repeatedly could indicate that people with OCD struggle with their working memory.

A recent study compared people with OCD against people without it. Through psychological tests and imaging, the researchers found that participants with OCD had impaired working memory when compared with the participants without OCD.

Learn more about the different types of memory.

Dementia is a group of diseases that affect brain function. These changes in brain function worsen cognitive abilities over time.

Alzheimer’s disease accounts for up to 80% of people with dementia. After Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia is the most common form of this condition.

The symptoms of dementia depend on the type of dementia and the individual. Some of the more common symptoms include:

  • getting lost in familiar places
  • having trouble completing routine tasks
  • forgetting words for everyday objects
  • forgetting the names of friends or family members

Most times, people will receive an OCD diagnosis before they develop dementia. They will likely experience worsening OCD symptoms as dementia progresses.

These individuals may forget that they have acted on certain compulsions. This could lead them to repeat certain behaviors more than usual.

In some people, a late diagnosis of OCD may indicate the presence of dementia. One study analyzed two people with late-onset OCD. Both individuals were over the age of 60 when they showed signs of OCD. After further testing, researchers found that they both had a form of dementia.

Learn more about the early signs and symptoms of dementia.

Experts do not understand the link between OCD and dementia well. One study found that people with OCD are at a higher risk of developing dementia. These individuals also received a dementia diagnosis about 6 years earlier than people without OCD.

However, people with OCD are more likely to experience other conditions, such as depression. These conditions could also affect the likelihood of developing dementia.

Although some preliminary research has found a link between OCD and dementia, the reason behind that link remains unclear. Future studies examining this relationship may lead to a more comprehensive understanding in the future.

Learn more about the risk factors for dementia.

An OCD diagnosis typically occurs earlier in a person’s life than one for dementia. We explore the diagnostic process for both conditions below.

Dementia diagnosis

People experiencing symptoms of dementia should visit a healthcare professional. Before diagnosing dementia, doctors may conduct a physical exam and may test for other conditions, possibly by a blood test.

If healthcare professionals do not detect another condition, doctors will carry out tests for dementia. These can include:

A dementia diagnosis can take time. It can include several tests with a variety of different healthcare professionals. When the testing is complete, doctors can provide a diagnosis of dementia and specify the type of dementia.

Learn more about tests for dementia.

OCD diagnosis

A person will need to speak with a psychiatric or healthcare professional to receive an OCD diagnosis. During an initial screening for OCD, they may ask questions, such as:

  • Do you double-check things often?
  • Do you wash your hands or clean excessively?
  • Do your day-to-day activities take lots of time to complete?
  • Do you need to place certain items in a specific order?

A mental health professional can compare the results of an OCD evaluation to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, Text Revision (DSM-5-TR) diagnostic criteria. If an individual meets these criteria, they can receive an OCD diagnosis.

People with OCD and dementia require specialized treatment for each condition. Treatment for OCD generally includes certain medications and therapy.

People with OCD may benefit from Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). This form of cognitive behavioral therapy exposes individuals to triggers and helps them develop healthy responses. Over time, this can help people manage their OCD symptoms.

Neurodegenerative forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, do not have a cure. Certain medications and types of therapy can help slow disease progression.

But medications, vitamin deficiencies, or hormonal imbalances can also lead to dementia symptoms. In these instances, treating the underlying issue can help eliminate dementia symptoms.

Anyone showing signs of dementia should speak with a healthcare professional. If they have already received an OCD diagnosis, a medical professional can help them learn to manage dementia with OCD.

Individuals who show signs of OCD late in life should also consult with a medical professional. Although it is not necessarily a sign of dementia, late-onset OCD may indicate the presence of an underlying condition.

Most individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder and dementia receive an OCD diagnosis before a dementia diagnosis. Dementia may worsen OCD symptoms, but it does not typically cause OCD.

In rare instances, late-onset OCD can be a sign of cognitive decline. However, the link between OCD and dementia remains poorly understood.

Anyone showing signs of OCD and dementia should consult with a doctor. An early diagnosis and proper care can help individuals with these conditions develop the best treatment plan for them.