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How can I get my mother with Alzheimer's to stop picking her skin?

3 answers | Last updated: Jul 27, 2014
D'sgirl asked...
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Caring.com User - Joanne Koenig Coste
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Joanne Koenig Coste is a nationally recognized expert on Alzheimer's care and an outspoken advocate for patient and family care. She is the author...
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This must be devastating for you as a caregiver to watch your Mom repeatedly performing an act that can potentially become a grave medical problem. It is difficult enough to See also:
How can I keep my father, who has dementia, from losing things?

See all 290 questions about Difficult Behaviors
deal with Alzheimer's without the addition of this ongoing habit. I'm sure it is also less than pleasing to be viewing this ritual and its bloody results day after day. It does sound like you have done all the right things in seeking your physician's help and in attempting to cover her hands to prevent the dreaded scratching. In the hundreds of Alzheimer's disease folks I've seen in the past 3 decades, I must admit to only knowing a few who have manifested this same seemingly harmful need to scratch at areas that have been tested and show no underlying skin irritation or allergy which would be the first consideration. I have also seen several others with as dementia-related psychiatric illness. I'm sure your physician has already checked this possibility as the trigger for the picking. Having ruled out medical, psychiatric, or dermatologic causes, I would suggest you try a different kind of clothing that has worked well for the other patients to whom I previously referred. It is a one piece garment that fastens in the back and leaves the person's skin totally covered; because of the back closure your Mom would not be able to remove it. In the hundreds of Alzheimer's disease folks I've seen in the past 3 decades, I must admit to only knowing a few who have manifested this same seemingly harmful need to scratch at areas that have been tested and show no underlying skin irritation or allergy which would be the first consideration. I have also seen several others with as dementia-related psychiatric illness. I'm sure your physician has already checked this possibility as the trigger for the picking. Having ruled out medical, psychiatric, or dermatologic causes, I would suggest you try a different kind of clothing that has worked well for the other patients to whom I previously referred. It is a one piece garment that fastens in the back and leaves the person's skin totally covered; because of the back closure your Mom would not be able to remove it.
I would also suggest a "busy apron" which is, exactly as it sounds, an apron that is worn over the back-fastening garment and has items attached that keep the person wearing it busy interacting with various buttons, textures, zippers etc. Not only does it provide some healing time but it may hopefully redirect her focus onto something other than her skin. Try "The Alzheimer Store" online to find the articles I mentioned or for assistance in finding a place near you that has them in stock. If you or a friend are handy with a needle and thread, do buy some interesting objects and sew them onto a cobbler-style apron to create your own version of a busy-apron. Be sure to take care of yourself!

 

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sj77 answered...

i can relate to your concern......we have just gone through this with mom......she's 83 and diagnosed with mild-moderate dementia.......it's just heartwrenching to see the effects of the constant scratching and itching......at times it appeared she wasn't even aware of what she was doing......fortunately we found a dermatologist that was able to help curb the itching........she was diagonosed with a form of psycho-dermatitis.....she received a total of 4 or 5 steroid shots over the cours e of 8-10 weeks (each shot a little less) along with a medicated ointment that we mixed with CeraVe moisturing cream.....(i also began washing all of her clothing & linens in fragrant free/dye free detergents & softners) by the end of the treatment the intense scratching had subsided....and the open wounds are gone.......to prevent another bout of this intense scratching......we do continue to use CeraVe on a daily basis to keep her skin moisturized.....hope this helps......

 

crabjack1 answered...

This behavior is very typical, especially in later stages of dementia. I believe it has less to do with scratching an itch or easing a skin irritation as with trying to ease a psychological agitation. She is feeling fidgety and she is fidgeting. Try giving her something else to fidget with. Providing meaningful and appropriate activity often is all that is required to stop, or at least curtail selp-destructive or harmful behavior. Best Alzheimer's Products online has several good articles about appropriate activities for people in different stages of dementia.

 

 
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