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Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior and Dementia


Updated June 11, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder(OCD)?

OCD is a disorder characterized by obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. It's not uncommon to see this challenging behavior in certain types of dementias such as frontotemporal dementia, Huntington's disease and progressive supranuclear palsy. Late life development of obsessive-compulsive behaviors (as opposed to a life-long tendency) may be a sign that your loved one is in the early stages of dementia and should be evaluated by a knowledgeable physician.

With obsessive and/or compulsive behaviors, a loved one may have the need to repeat actions or behaviors multiple times. For example, your father might check the locks 12 times instead of once, repeatedly wash his hands until they're so dry that the skin cracks and bleeds, or constantly want to go to the bathroom.

How to Respond to Obsessions and Compulsions in Dementia

The key to responding to this type of behavior in dementia is determining whether the behaviors are simply a nuisance and harmless, or whether they present a danger to the person or those around him. If they're just harmless quirks, you're better off just accepting those characteristics and focusing your energy on other things.

If the obsessions and compulsions interfere with safety or are causing the person distress, they should be addressed. Sometimes, verbal reassurances or distractions are helpful to people. Other people benefit from treatment with SSRIs, a class of antidepressants with few side effects that seems to be beneficial and provide some relief from OCD.


Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders. Obsessive-compulsive behavior as a symptom of dementia in progressive supranuclear palsy. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20798538

The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, VOL. 12, No. 2. Late-Life Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Huntington's Disease. http://neuro.psychiatryonline.org/article.aspx?Volume=12&page=288&journalID=62

The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders.2011; 13(3). Late-Onset Cinephilia and Compulsive Behaviors: Harbingers of Frontotemporal Dementia. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3184557/

University of California, San Francisco. Alleviating Symptoms: Compulsive Behavior. http://memory.ucsf.edu/ftd/livingwithftd/practicaltips/alleviating/multiple/complusions

University of California, San Fransisco. Medications for behavioral symptoms. Accessed March 28, 2012. http://memory.ucsf.edu/ftd/overview/ftd/treatment/multiple/behavioral

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