People with dementia will often pick at something that is bothering them. My mother-in-law would pick her skin until it became infected. It's was a challenge to keep them covered and comfortable so they'd heal. It seems to be an obsessive/compulsive behavior.
I'd ask a dermatologist about something for her scalp which may itch. Scalp itching can be caused by lack of B vitamins as well as dandruff and other issues. There’s an over-the-counter product for itchy scalp called Scalpicin, and a weak vinegar solution can help some people, but it’s best to check with a dermatologist first.
I'd also ask the doctor in charge of her dementia is there's anything he or she can suggest. If your wife can be distracted from this habit for awhile, and any itching is stopped, she may quit.
HI Mr Mann
I am sorry to hear your wife is focusing on her scalp and damaging her hair when she scratches it.
Skin picking is a comparatively common type of behaviour in people with various types of dementia. It is, as Carol says, important to get a accurate diagnosis to exclude skin conditions and diseases, side effects to any medication she may be on that can cause itching, and a number of other diseases that may contribute to skin picking.
Because people with dementia have increasing trouble expressing themselves and their needs it is important for caregivers to try to interpret the behavior. In that way it can often be stopped by redirect their attention to more satisfying passtime.
In studies caregivers report a number of causes for this type of behaviour. It is variously described as one that diminishes anxiety, as an attempt to gain, control, be involved in a meaningful activity, and as a means to gain social contact with others.
The behavior will change as her dementia progresses, but it is worth redirecting her to activities she enjoys and increase your interactions with her at these times.
I hope this is helpful
Alll my best wishes
Your wife has a vascular dementia. Vascular dementia is also known as multi-infarct dementia. This type of dementia is caused by blockages in the brain’s blood supply. Vascular dementia can be caused by a series of mini-strokes that cause damage to the brain over and over again. The damage caused to the brain can cause symptoms such as confusion and agitation, problems with language and memory, unsteady gait, causing falls, urinary frequency, urgency or incontinence, personality and mood changes.
You inquired if your wife’s behavior of constantly scratching her scalp is a common behavior with those with dementia. Every individual who has this disease is different, although some can experience repetitive anxious behaviors, like your wife. Since she is scratching her scalp causing hair damage, I would seek medical consultation, to rule out if this behavior is due to a medical condition. First, have her evaluated by her primary physician, and that doctor can refer her to a dermatologist if this is deemed a skin issue. Your wife’s condition can be serious and extends beyond the aesthetic. If your wife has open sores on scalp and picks at her skin with dirty hands, she can introduce an infection into her body, which can be hazardous to her health. You should also consider behavioral interventions to distract her with in the meanwhile. If she is kept busy, and she is allowed to expend her energy in a safe, healthy manner, she may not spend her time picking at her scalp. Find activities that you think she may like, which will require the use of her hands. Folding, gardening, mixing cooking ingredients, and coloring are good examples. In addition, you can put hand mittens on her along with keeping her nails short, to decrease her from scratching her scalp. Combining medical and behavioral interventions will hopefully decrease or stop her scratching altogether.
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