Thursday, October 30, 2014

Tuesday, October 21, 2008 Luann Will, Community Member, asks

Q: My mom picks herself until she has open sores. Is this the Dementia/Alzheimers?

My mom is going to be 81 years old and has Dementia.  She still lives alone,in a low housing project and says she is not ready to move in with me.  If her nails are not clipped short,she picks at her skin in many different areas until there is no skin left and is now a open sore.  I am now over there daily,an only child,and work in Dialysis full time.  She of course fights me about taking a shower.  I just want to know if there is other people out there doing this and what steps did you take to help stop it.  I am going to take her to her doctor for starters.  Thanks.


                                               LuAnn Will 

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Answers (3)
AFA Social Services, Health Guide
10/22/08 11:32am

First I want to commend you being vigilant with this issue and responding by seeking medical attention.  Alzheimer's disease can cause individuals to behave in ways that can result in unhealthy conditions.  Your mother's picking at her skin could be anxiety or depression manifesting itself in a physical reaction.  She also could be having a medical issue that she is not able to express appropriately, so her brain is telling her to pick at her skin to fix the problem.  A medical intervention is essential, since you do not want your mother to develop an infection that could become serious.  In the meantime, you can attempt to help her by covering the areas she seems most focused on, such as ensuring that she wears long sleeves if she is picking at her arms.


Non-compliance with bathing is a common issue for individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.  As people age, the skin becomes thinner, resulting in elevated sensitivity.  The shower or bath can be a very uncomfortable experience due to water pressure and water temperature.  Make sure to check both of these conditions before she enters the tub or shower.  Bathing can also be very intimidating especially because she has to disrobe in front of another person, namely her daughter.  Talking to your mother as she is navigating the process of bathing, while providing her with constant reassurance, is helpful.  You always want to maintain your mother's dignity and keep her safe and calm at all times.    

NC, Community Member
10/22/08 11:41am

My father-in-law had similar experience last year in September. He now scratches himself a lot unless the caregiver tells him no and stop it. He got a bite at that time over his body and it was itchy. He has severe/moderate Alzheimer's and so he had no idea what it was and he kept scratching it so bad that it became a sore and he went to the hospital in mid-Sept last year! He needed antibiotics and they had to wrap up the sore so he could not touch it. He was ok a month later. He cannot be alone.

Now he has 24 hours home care.

In your mom's case, I don't think she can be alone. Someone needs to be there and tell her no scratch and etc. Someone has to trim her nails too. Maybe you can find someone from professional home care to visit her everyday and cut her nails and etc.? If she scratches a lot, it means she cannot be alone because someone needs to remind her to stop it.


This is not unusual. Someone with dementia does not know why he/she is itchy and so your Mom would scratch herself a lot. They are just very confused, I am not sure why they scratch their skin often -  maybe my father-in-law gets bored as he cannot read or understand a lot of stuff anymore.


Did you make sure she does not get infections from the sore? It is the important thing to do.

Take care,


Linda, Community Member
10/23/08 3:52pm

Hello, I feel for you. My sister and I are going through this with our mother.  A year ago she learned how to get inside her pant leg and proceeded to pick a hole on the top of her leg.  It was so bad that she had to have surgery to clean it out and the it was found to be SARS.  She was isolated for weeks and weeks because of that. 

Her doctor changed her medications and she was fine for months.  Now she is back at it!  Picking constantly.  She is in a care facility and the nursing staff is aware of if, but it is so bad again that her doctor is going to have to prescribe something.  She is taking xanax, but it doesn't seem to be helping with her anxiety. 

I just want you to know how serious this is.  Your mother should not be alone because she could pick herself into the hospital as mine did.  Just telling someone to stop picking isn't the answer either.  We tell my mom to stop picking constantly but she goes right back to it.  Her brain cannot process the harm she is doing like we can.  Your mother may need something to ease her anxiety too.  Good luck.  I feel your pain.


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By Luann Will, Community Member— Last Modified: 03/09/14, First Published: 10/21/08