by Eda Gorbis,PhD, LMFT and Evelyn Dubon, MS

What is OCD? OCD is composed of two components: obsessions and compulsions.  Obsessions are recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses, or images. The thoughts, impulses, or images are not excessive worries about real-life problems. Individuals attempt to ignore, suppress, or neutralize such thoughts, impulses, or images. Typically, individuals recognize the thoughts, impulses, or images that are merely products of his/her own mind. For example, an individual might have a fear of being contaminated, losing control, or might focus on an idea excessively. 

Compulsions are known as repetitive behaviors such as hand washing, ordering, checking, etc. It also consists of mental acts like praying, counting, or repeating words silently. The person feels driven to perform repetitive behaviors or mental acts in response to an obsession according to rigid rules. The behaviors or mental acts are clearly excessive or unreasonable and are aimed at preventing or reducing distress. For someone experiencing OCD, compulsions help to reduce anxiety or prevent a dreadful situation. 

What is Dementia?

Dementia is categorized as a neurodegenerative disorder that affects 50 million people worldwide. Usually it is seen in individuals that are 50 years or older, however it can manifest at an earlier age. There are different stages such as, Alzheimer’s disease, Mild Cognitive impairment, and Vascular dementia. The most common symptom of dementia is memory loss. Usually someone that is impacted with this disease experiences problems with short-term memory, language, attention, problem solving, and executive functioning.

The risk factors of dementia vary among individuals. Some are predisposed by the genetic gene APOE and others by their environment. Family history plays an enormous role in determining the cause of dementia. Those that have parents or siblings with the APOE gene are more likely to develop dementia. Environment is an important aspect to also take into consideration when determining the cause of dementia. Physical activity and diet contribute in developing the risk of dementia. Studies have shown that individuals that exhibit a healthy balance diet with exercise are less likely to develop dementia. Diet and exercise may reduce the risk, however it is still possible to be diagnosed with dementia. 

The Cutting Edge of OCD and Dementia 

Generally, OCD manifest before the individual is diagnosed with dementia. The individual will already display OCD symptoms such as repeating rituals (washing hands) or obsessive thoughts. When being diagnosed with dementia, OCD symptoms might worsen over time. For instance, the ritual of washing hands might increase to five times a day when it was twice a day. Moreover, because of memory loss, the ritual might increase overtime. 


It is important to differentiate both disorders since they are categorized in separate spectrums. To treat the individual accurately, it is important for the clinician to first treat the primary disorder. In this instance, OCD should first be treated separately from dementia so the individual can absorb the full treatment. After the clinician can incorporate treatments for dementia.  

Dementia is a chronic neurodegenerative that has no current cure. However, there are cognitive rehabilitation programs that help reduce memory decline. Though it is difficult to live with dementia, it is important for the loved ones or caregiver to be supportive and understanding. OCD is also not curable, but it can be managed through proper treatments. Current treatment includes exposure therapy, mindfulness and medication. 

About the Authors

Dr. Eda Gorbis, PhD, LMFT is the Founder and Executive Director of the Westwood Institute for Anxiety Disorders in Los Angeles, California and a Clinical Assistant Professor (V) at the USC Keck School of Medicine. The Westwood Institute is often called an intensive center of 'last resort' for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), and other anxiety disorders. By integrating treatment methods with a multidisciplinary team of experts, Dr. Gorbis has brought hundreds of people with prior treatment failures to normal functioning. Her expertise was prominently featured on programs, such as "20/20," "60 Minutes," and "MTV's True Life.”  She has given over 170 conference presentations on topics related to her intensive treatment of OCD, BDD, and anxiety disorders around the world.

Evelyn Dubon, M.S., recently graduated with her Master’s in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in advance statistics at California Lutheran University. During her time there she completed her thesis on how the Mini Mental Status Examination predicts Alzheimer’s disease.   Currently, she is a memory trainer at UCLA’s Memory Care Center and Research Assistant at Westwood Institute for Anxiety Disorders in Los Angeles. Ms. Dubon was recently accepted to a clinical psychology Ph.D. program at Alliant International University. She hopes to become a neuropsychologist in the near future. Ms. Dubon would like to work with individuals that suffer from Neurodegenerative disorders such as, Dementia, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Vascular Dementia.