Picks at skin
When it happens
Moderate to severe-stage dementia
Why it happens
Picking at the skin is one of many different repetitive behaviors some people show, especially when they're nervous, upset, bored, angry, or feeling vulnerable.
What you can do
Appreciate that this curious symptom is a function of the disease that can't simply be "stopped."
See if you can identify what triggers the behavior. Is your loved one tired? In the company of new people or feeling insecure for some other reason? Is there too much background noise? Are you about to do something (like bathing) that your loved one dislikes? Could he or she be bored or lonesome?
Try not to dwell on the behavior or keep saying, "Don't do that!" Instead focus on the person more generally -- his or her mood and the surrounding circumstances. When in doubt, take the behavior as a sign that your loved one is in need of comfort and reassurance. Provide added attention, give a hug or stroke the hands, find something pleasant to do.
Look for ways to channel nervous energy into other activities involving the hands: balling yarn, working with safe hand tools, playing with worry beads, stacking materials like blocks, sorting buttons or socks, peeling potatoes or carrots.
Speak reassuringly and use positive body language.
Ask the doctor about the best way to protect and medicate skin. Certain creams may make it harder for the person to persist in this habit.