New app to help people with OCD symptoms

One common behaviour of people with OCD symptoms is repeated hand washing, to prevent a feeling of contamination. Excessive washing can be harmful, however, causing problems such as skin damage as well as reducing people’s mental health and wellbeing. Furthermore, severe contamination fears may prevent people from leaving their own homes.

Compulsive behaviours are related to ‘cognitive rigidity’ – finding it difficult to adapt to new situations or rules and consider alternative behaviours or responses. Current treatments are not effective for all sufferers, with up to 40% of patients not experiencing significant benefit from the most common options.

Cambridge researchers have developed a new treatment to help with excessive hand washing through an app. A study to test the new app used otherwise healthy patients who had expressed strong fears of contamination on the Padua Inventory Contamination Fear Subscale, which is a questionnaire commonly used by researchers to measure concerns associated with contamination.

Participants who used the app to watch videos of washing their hands or touching contaminated surfaces had reduced feelings of contamination and improved cognitive flexibility.

Further research is needed and researchers hope the technology will help people manage their symptoms and experience better quality of life and wellbeing.

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