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

4 answers | Last updated: Feb 27, 2015
D'sgirl asked...

My 82 year old mother has Alzheimer's and has developed (and it is getting worse!) a frightening and potentially dangerous habit. She sits for hours picking the skin off any part of her body she can reach. Her arms look like chopped meat and she has ruined most of her clothes with blood. She has made sores on most every part of her body; face, arms, hands, neck, back and chest. Not only does she pick the skin till it bleeds, when scabs form, she picks those off and gouges deeper. Her doctor is aware of this and we have tried several medications with no help. I have taped, wrapped, bandaged, and gloved. She always manages to get them off and continue digging. Does anyone have any suggestions. I keep antibiotic ointment on all of the places and keep them clean, but I need some ideas other than keeping her so drugged up that she can't function, how ever little it is Thanks!

 

Answers
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...
83% helpful
Joanne Koenig Coste answered...

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:
Four Ways Hope Can Help See You Through Dementia Caregiving This Year

See all 363 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......

 

100% helpful
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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Rosie' answered...

Hi my name rosie (Fake nails ) read Please be patient with my English but worth reading I feel for you my mum has been the same problem for 2 1/2 years Now the best news is fake nail (round and smooth ) she unable to take all dressing of,( it to harder and process longer ) stops the opening of wounds and they heals Mum loves them and thinks there her own nails Story of what happened we wasnt happy with want we where told by doctors My sister and myself work in help profession and took photos of mum they all said the some thing staphylococcus aureus this is comment in old patient Which another words stap, school sores So I took mum to the doctors that work recommended Mum was tested for staphylococcus aureus Test come back yes He also treated mum for scabies We wash everything Doctor said This is want can course above poor hygiene ,wrong foods dryness of skin dirty nails from scratching ,not changing linen not washing hands ,not showering enough or wright , house not cleaned ,animals Look it up on computer Where gloves highly contagious Mum was treatment for scabies first Placed on antibiotic tables and cream When cream finished we started using Manuka honey 15 +this is a natural antibiotic fanstic please read up about it ,get used in hospital I also place this in mum cupa to help her skin Place betadine and saline (salt water ) and wash areas Around the sore place betadine cream to kill the baterica in the dry skin Place the honey onto sore and cover with makeup cotton square Then use fidomull stretch 5 cm x10cm to dress wound I was doing 2 hours of dressing a day now 15 min only because I'm treating the scars on her skin now Make sure daily that sheets ,nighty, linen changed , shower daily with sorbene boby wash in morning Make sure correct foods are eaten place avocado oil over skin and in hair ,,face,neck body to help with dryness at night time this also is very important and part of problem dryness of skin (scratching ) Doctor also said get blood moving around body Also try to keep her hands busy with puzzle books reading we get mum sewing small things like buttons ,hems etc ,writing letters, groups ,

Mum looking fanastic got her hair permed first time in years Hope this helped rosie