Does OCD Get Worse With Age?

Do you suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)? If so, it’s natural to be concerned with whether the condition might worsen as you age. Unfortunately, there is not one clear answer. The unpredictability of how OCD can change over time can create significant stress and anxiety for sufferers. To better understand what to expect, it’s important to have a grasp on why OCD may become worse or stay the same after a certain age – this blog will explore this topic in further detail.

What is OCD?

Before we dive into how OCD may change with age, it’s important to define what OCD is. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder that causes people to have intrusive thoughts, or obsessions and engage in repetitive behaviors, known as compulsions. Examples of obsessive thoughts include fear of contamination from germs or dirt, fear of making mistakes, exaggerated concerns about order or symmetry, and intrusive thoughts. Examples of compulsions include repeated hand-washing, excessive grooming rituals, counting items multiple times, checking locks or ovens to make sure they’re off, and organizing objects in a particular way.


  • Repetitive thoughts urge or mental images that cause distress.
  • Compulsive behaviors that use up a lot of time (over an hour per day).
  • Difficulty controlling these behaviors and thoughts.
  • Obsessions and compulsions take up at least one hour of the day or significantly interfere with life.
  • Anxiety related to obsessions and compulsions.
  • Symptoms that are not related to a medical condition or substance use.

Link Between Age and OCD:

It’s difficult to determine whether OCD gets worse with age due to the lack of research on this topic. While some studies suggest that OCD symptoms may become more intense as a person ages, others report that the condition remains stable or even decreases over time.

One study found that those with OCD aged 45 and older had higher levels of anxiety, including higher levels of depression and obsessive-compulsive symptoms than those aged 18 to 24. However, it’s important to note that this study did not differentiate between age groups or determine whether the participants had any comorbidities (i.e., other conditions that could have contributed to the OCD).

Other research has suggested that age may play a role in OCD severity. A study of adults aged 21 to 70 found that those who were older had higher rates of comorbid disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder, which can exacerbate OCD symptoms. Another study reported that individuals aged 18 to 30 experienced more intense obsessive-compulsive symptoms than those aged 30 to 50.

Identifying Causes of Increased Intensity in Later Life?

Stress: One of the most common causes of an increase in OCD symptoms in later life is stress. Stressful situations can trigger or exacerbate obsessive-compulsive behaviors and cause a person to feel overwhelmed, anxious, and unable to cope.

Changes in Hormones: As people age, their hormones start to change, which can affect their mental health and cause OCD symptoms to worsen.

Medication Side Effects: Some medications used to treat OCD can have side effects that increase compulsions or obsessions, making the condition worse.

Comorbidities: Having another mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety, can make someone more vulnerable to developing OCD, or can worsen existing symptoms.

Social Isolation: As people age, they may start to feel socially isolated, which can lead to a decrease in self-confidence and an increase in OCD symptoms.

It’s important to note that age alone is not the only factor contributing to an increase in OCD symptoms. Everyone’s experience with the condition is unique, and there are many other factors that may affect a person’s mental health and ability to cope with the disorder. It’s also important to remember that having OCD does not mean that it will get worse as you age, but understanding how it can change over time can help you better manage the condition. If you are concerned about your OCD symptoms, speak to your doctor or mental health professional for advice on management techniques and treatment options that can help reduce the intensity of your disorder.

Exploring Ways to Manage Symptoms as You Age?

Once you understand how OCD can change over time, it’s important to explore ways to manage your symptoms as you age. Here are some strategies that may help:

  • Talk Therapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for OCD that helps a person better understand their thoughts and behaviors, and learn more effective coping strategies.
  • Exercise: Regular exercise can help reduce the intensity of OCD symptoms, as it releases endorphins that improve mood and reduce stress.
  • Relaxation Techniques: Relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, or yoga can help to decrease anxiety and compulsive behaviors.
  • A Support System: It’s important to have a strong support system as you age, whether it’s family, friends, or mental health professionals. They can provide encouragement and understanding during difficult times.
  • Medication: In some cases, medications such as SSRIs may be prescribed in conjunction with therapy to help manage symptoms.

Examining Different Treatments for OCD:

It’s important to explore all of the available treatment options for OCD in order to find the one that works best for you. Here are some treatments you may want to consider:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on changing unhelpful thoughts and behaviors in order to reduce the intensity of OCD symptoms. It can help a person gain better insight into their thoughts and behaviors, learn new coping strategies, and take control of their disorder.
  • Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP): ERP is a type of CBT that involves exposing someone to either real or imagined situations that trigger obsessions while preventing them from engaging in compulsive behaviors. This treatment can help a person gain control and reduce symptoms over time.
  • Medication: In some cases, medications such as SSRIs may be prescribed in conjunction with therapy to help manage symptoms. It’s important to discuss any potential side effects of the medication with your doctor before starting the treatment.
  • Group Therapy: Participating in group therapy or support groups can provide a sense of community and understanding, which may help to reduce stress and anxiety related to OCD.


As you age, it’s important to have a good understanding of how OCD can change. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, understanding the potential risks and exploring treatments can help you better manage your symptoms. Talk therapy, exercise, relaxation techniques, medication, and group therapy are all potential options for managing OCD as you age. If you’re concerned about your OCD symptoms, be sure to speak with your doctor or mental health professional for further advice and support.

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