Suggestions For Preventing Nail-biting By An Alzheimer's Person?


Asked by CJ

Suggestions For Preventing Nail-biting By An Alzheimer's Person?

My mother has been an intermittent nail-biter her entire life, going some years without biting her nails but more years than not as a nail-biter. Recently, she has begun to make her fingers bleed, because she can't seem to stop herself from biting her fingernails. It almost seems as if she no longer feels or understands what she is doing, and yet, once she makes her finger bleed and it is finally sore, she complains about the pain when I put on or take off the bandaid made necessary because she has prompted bleeding.

It is getting out of hand. Her caregivers and I can remind her about this when we are with her, but this morning, she seems to have gotten herself bleeding during the wee hours of the morning, before I arrived on the scene.

Any suggestions for polite and sweet-seeming reminders about nail-biting? I'm considering getting one of those "play" pillows with buttonholes and buttons and snaps and other devices that she can fuss with while sitting. These are available through the Alzheimer's store, and I believe I could make one, as well. In the meantime, other than putting bandaids on all her fingers or asking her to wear gloves, does anyone have any suggestions about how to prevent this unconscious nail-biting?

I should probably add that my mother is otherwise a cheerful, happy person, not morose or self-absorbed (any more than an Alzheimer's person would normally be). She is not frustrated or unhappy. This is a terrible habit that has gotten out of hand, and I'm concerned about the safety of her hands at this point.



There can be a number of reasons why your mother has returned to biting her nails. The first one, as you recognise, is related to her returning to an old, well established habit. There are a number of other causes that you should also consider;

It may be a symptom of anxiety. This can be from one cause or may be multi causal (sorry not to have a simple answer). It could be changes in routine, in her environment, a side effect of reduction or increase in medication or a side effect of a new drug, pain, from a physical symptom of another disease. It could be understimulation or boredom, or separation anxiety, hunger, thirst, constipation. Sorry for such a long list!

The way forward may be to consult her doctor. If you feel it is non urgent then a period of observing her behavior may be the most productive. Is there a anticedent to the behavior? Does it occur at a certain time of day? etc.etc. Record your findings for a number of days. Then you will be armed with good information before you see her doctor or change her routine, diet, medication etc.

As your mother has Alzheimers the solution may be to get her to wear cotton gloves to break the habit, allow time for her skin and nails to heal.


Answered by Christine Kennard