Generally speaking, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts that become obsessions and lead to compulsive behavior. To the best of our knowledge, it affects 1 in 40 adults and 1 in 100 children.(1) But like many disorders, it can come in a number of forms. One form of OCD is late-onset OCD, which refers to OCD that begins to affect one later in life, as an adult. Though this may simply seem like a difference in ages in which OCD is diagnosed, there have been multiple investigations into the distinctions of late-onset OCD in order to see if it can be counted as a distinct subtype.(2)
If you have been diagnosed with OCD later in life or know someone who has, here is everything you need to know:
What Age Constitutes Late-Onset OCD?
Adulthood, of course, makes up the vast majority of most of our lives. This can lead many to wonder what constitutes late-onset OCD. Is it OCD in which symptoms start to show in college? Or OCD in which symptoms begin to affect your life in your 50s or 60s? The answer is in between. The most common age for late-onset OCD diagnosis is 23 years or older, while early-onset OCD can begin around the ages of 11 or 12.(2)
The Difference Between Early-Onset OCD and Late-Onset OCD?
The primary differences between early and late onset OCD simply lie in when the symptoms of OCD begin to manifest and when it is diagnosed. However, because of the development of the patient by a certain age as well as the severity, treatments and symptoms can vary between early-onset OCD and late-onset OCD.
For instance in late-onset OCD, symptoms tend to be less severe than in early-onset OCD, possibly because adult OCD patients have already learned some coping mechanisms. But unlike early-onset OCD, in which symptoms begin to manifest gradually and grow in severity, symptoms of late-onset OCD typically appear suddenly, after a certain trigger or life event. For late-onset OCD, it may seem as though the OCD is a response to a stressful or harrowing time in your life.
Late-onset OCD is typically diagnosed equally among male and female patients, whereas early-onset OCD tends to be more present in boys. It is also less likely to cause tics than late-onset OCD, but more likely to come compounded with depression and anxiety.
How Common Is Late-Onset OCD?
Late-onset OCD is fairly common, but becomes less common the older the patient is when symptoms begin to manifest. Though a 1992 study by Steven A. Rasmussin, MD and Jane L. Eisen, MD(3) showed that the average age for diagnosis was between 20 and 25, the more recent Steven Taylor study in 2011 showed that 76% of OCD cases were described as “early onset.” That leaves a remaining 24% of cases to be classified as late-onset.
Late-Onset OCD In Seniors
Late-onset OCD after the age of 50 is remarkably rare, but not unheard of. Often at that age, OCD is associated with “inflammatory, brain lesions, or neurodegenerative comorbidities.”(4) More notably, however, late-onset OCD in seniors who have never before shown symptoms of OCD has been studied as a “harbinger of Dementia with Lewy Bodies.” Over two cases of seniors first beginning to show symptoms of OCD, it was found that both were diagnosed with DLB.
An OCD diagnosis can be daunting at any age, but Neurobehavioral Associates is here to help. Contact us today to learn more about our assessment and treatment services.
- Information on OCD and Compulsive Behaviors In Adults – BeyondOCD.org
- Early vs. Late Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Evidence for Distinct Subtypes – Clin Psychol Rev. 2011 Nov;31(7):1083-100. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2011.06.007. Epub 2011 Jul 1.
- The Epidemiology and Clinical Features of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – Psychiatric Clinics of North America, Volume 15, Issue 4, December 1992, Pages 743-758
- Late-Onset OCD as a Potential Harbinger of Dementia With Lewy Bodies: A Report of Two Cases – Frileux S, Millet B and Fossati P (2020) Late-Onset OCD as a Potential Harbinger of Dementia With Lewy Bodies: A Report of Two Cases. Front. Psychiatry 11:554. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00554