Although cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication can help alleviate OCD symptoms in most, some individuals with OCD may not benefit fully. Additionally, individuals with OCD frequently report concerns about their memory. Dr. Savage’s prior research demonstrated that this can be explained by difficulty in using effective strategies to encode and retain memories, as opposed to problems with memory itself.
This study by Dr. Savage and his team led to a series of publications related to exploring and improving memory strategies for people with OCD. One study (Deckersbach et al., 2004) that examined memory strategies for remembering word lists found that people with OCD have difficulty remembering words and using strategies to make learning and organizing them easier. Another study (Deckersbach et al., 2005) that examined memorizing word lists and placing words into made-up and given categories showed that people with OCD had difficulty with spontaneously categorizing words into categories, but were able to quickly place given words into given categories and had no difficulty with recall. Finally, Buhlmann et al. (2006) demonstrated that a cognitive training based on improving organization of visual items related to a complicated image was effective for both people with OCD and healthy controls, but that people with OCD improved in memory and organization regardless of receiving the training when seeing a complicated figure for the second time. This study suggests that people with OCD have difficulty with using organizational strategies upon seeing something new that needs to be memorized.
Buhlmann, U., Deckersbach, T., Engelhard, I., Cook, L.M., Rauch, S.L., Kathmann, N., Wilhelm, S., & Savage, C.R. (2006). Cognitive retraining for organizational impairment in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Psychiatry Research, 144, 109-116. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2005.10.012
Deckersbach, T., Savage, C.R., Dougherty, D.D., Bohne, A., Loh, R., Nierenberg, A., Sachs, G., & Rauch, S.L. (2005). Spontaneous and directed application of verbal learning strategies in bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. Bipolar Disorders, 7, 166-175. doi:10.1111/j.1399-5618.2004.00168.x
Deckersbach, T., Savage, C.R., Reilly-Harrington, N., Clark, L., Sachs, G., & Rauch, S.L. (2004). Episodic memory impairment in bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder: The role of memory strategies. Bipolar Disorders, 6, 233-244. doi:10.1111/j.1399-5618.2004.00118.x