Picks obsessively at skin or small objects
When it happens: Moderate dementia
Why it happens: Picking (sticks, labels, lint, peeling paint) might reflect anxiety, but it can also simply be another kind of repetition the brain gets stuck on. It may actually be soothing.
What you can do:
If it's not harming anyone and seems soothing, you can just ignore it (even though it might drive you crazy to watch!).
Don't ignore picking at the skin or nails, which can be dangerous because it invites infection. Do mention it to the doctor (to rule out dry skin issues caused by a medication).
Try to keep your loved one's hands busy. Ideas: finger puppets, worry beads, a rubber-band ball, yarn to wind, a toolbox to organize, clothes to fold, lotion or nail polish to apply, something textured to hold that can't be picked, a gadget to play with (like an iPod), a drawer to organize.