Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in Elders

7 Comments

"My elderly father is obsessed with counting. She would washes her hair three times as opposed to once because three is "a good luck number and one isn't."

"My elderly mother puts little balled up tissues all over the house: in her sleeves, in her bed, under the bed, in the washing machine, even in food."

People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have persistent, upsetting thoughts (obsessions) and use rituals (compulsions) to control the anxiety these thoughts produce.

Most of the time, the rituals end up controlling them. For example, if people are obsessed with germs or dirt, they may develop a compulsion to wash their hands over and over again. If they develop an obsession with intruders, they may lock and re-lock their doors many times before going to bed. Being afraid of social embarrassment may prompt people with OCD to comb their hair compulsively in front of a mirror-sometimes they get "caught" in the mirror and can't move away from it.

Performing such rituals is not pleasurable. At best, it produces temporary relief from the anxiety created by obsessive thoughts.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is typically an anxiety disorder, but when an elderly person suffers from it, the condition could be related to Alzheimer's disease or dementia.

Behaviors That Are Considered OCD

Healthy people also have rituals, such as checking to see if the stove is off several times before leaving the house. The difference is that people with OCD perform their rituals even though doing so interferes with daily life and they find the repetition distressing. Although most adults with OCD recognize that what they are doing is senseless, some may not realize that their behavior is out of the ordinary.

Obsessive compulsive behaviors are those that interfere with daily life. The person is unable to control the rituals.

Some common rituals are a need to repeatedly check things, touch things (especially in a particular sequence), or count things. Some common obsessions include having frequent thoughts of violence and harming loved ones, persistently thinking about performing sexual acts the person dislikes, or having thoughts that are prohibited by religious beliefs.

People with OCD may also be preoccupied with order and symmetry, have difficulty throwing things out (so they accumulate), or hoard unneeded items.

How Common is OCD?

OCD affects about 2.2 million American adults, and the problem can be accompanied by eating disorders, other anxiety disorders, or depression. It strikes men and women in roughly equal numbers and usually appears in childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood. One-third of adults with OCD develop symptoms as children, and research indicates that OCD might run in families. The course of the disease is quite varied. Symptoms may come and go, ease over time, or get worse.

If OCD becomes severe, it can keep a person from working or carrying out normal responsibilities at home. People with OCD may try to help themselves by avoiding situations that trigger their obsessions, or they may use alcohol or drugs to calm themselves.

Treatments for OCD

OCD is treated with therapy and medication. OCD usually responds well to treatment with certain medications and/or exposure-based psychotherapy, in which people face situations that cause fear or anxiety and become less sensitive (desensitized) to them.

Antidepressants are sometimes used in conjunction with therapy for the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Because OCD often causes problems in family life and social adjustment, your doctor may recommend family therapy, which promotes an understanding of the disorder and can help reduce family conflicts.


The National Institutes of Health (NIH), a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the primary Federal agency for conducting and supporting medical research.

You May Also Like

Free AgingCare Guides

Get the latest care advice and articles delivered to your inbox!

7 Comments

You could ask him to help you check to make sure he needs those things on the list, that way you can check them off for him. My husband will make a list and come back to check it over and over or in the car he will check for his wallet over and over. It is annoying but it gets stuck in their head.
My father-in-law is constantly making shopping lists (he and my m-i-l live in an assisted living/nursing facility) and whenever anyone from the family (and friends) come to visit he asks them to go to the store for him (or take him) and get the things on his list - the list is almost always the same. Is this an obsession? My b-i-l's will get him the things on his list even though they see the things in his room so he obviously doesn't need those things.
my mom is ocd about her lawn and yard and trimming bushes. We have a yard man...her yard is gorgeous. she wears an alarm system...but this last week she fell twice outside. she is 85 and it is 100 degrees. I usually go down and work with her a couple of days a week on outdoor, or indoor stuff and bills etc...but now my husband is on complete bed rest for an infection in his foot for diabetes...and I cannot be two places at once. she makes me nervous.