My husband picks at his skin constantly. How can I get him to stop or how can I learn to live with it? -

My husband picks at his skin constantly. How can I get him to stop or how can I learn to live with it?


No medication seems to help longterm. He has open sores on both arms and now on his belly. I have tried bandaids, compression bandages, gloves. I don't want to nag him, but I don't want to leave him by himself either, but I have to leave the room. Zoloft made him a zombie, so we stopped that.

I put a cardboard "screen" between us as we watch TV, but I know he is harming himself while he watches TV. I am afraid of infection (he is also diabetic and legally blind) but I am also embarrassed when he scratches in front of other people. It looks like he has bugs and it is very unappetizing and distracting.

A nursing home isn't a viable solution. I am thinking of rearranging our home so he will have a bed, recliner, TV, bathroom behind closed doors. That of course would isolate both of us. What can I do?



This is a common dementia symptom. There are mitts that you can purchase for this purpose. Also, there are fidgit 'toys' that are available for dementia patients that allow them to fidgit without hurting themselves. 
Helpful Answer (9)
Reply to jjariz

Excoriation (skin picking disorder) is not limited to people with dementia. Dementia may make the treatment more complicated. For example, if your husband hated the habit and wanted to stop and decided to wear gloves that might be helpful. But if he doesn't remember that he is trying to stop, gloves you've given him might not work as well.

I agree with ff that a visit to a dermatologist is a good start, to make sure there isn't a physical cause for the picking. Excoriation is classified as an OCD disorder. Seeing a mental health practitioner would be my next step. Definitely shop around until you find one with experience in treating OCD behaviors -- experience in excoriation would be great but may not be easy to find.

Antidepressants of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) type are sometimes tried. That includes Zoloft, but there are several other SSRIs available. Since Zoloft didn't work, I'd ask to try a different one. (This kind of try-and-try-again approach is not at all unusual.)

I sincerely hope you can avoid isolation, for both of your sakes. I'd try a few more things before I'd give up!

If you'd like some background information on the Skin Picking Disorder, try
Helpful Answer (8)
Reply to jeannegibbs

oaoos, time to take hubby to see a dermatologist, to see if this is a skin issue or if it is a nervous habit.

Hope it is something as simple as dry skin which can itch like crazy until lotion is placed on the skin. See if you can trim his nails as short as possible.
Helpful Answer (6)
Reply to freqflyer

Just a suggestion is trying an ointment called calmoseptine. I get it on amazon. It’s for any type of itch to calm the area. It has zinc in it and is good for bites hemorrhoids diaper rash...I can’t travel without it. If his arms are actually itchy it might help. At the NH they also have long white sleeves to keep arms safe from pickers or skin tears.
Helpful Answer (6)
Reply to rocketjcat

One treatment that does work is the use of a steroid cream, like Betamethazone or Chlobesterol. Both prescription and quite expensive. You apply the cream and cover with plastic securely taped down to exclude the air and leave on overnight. it seems to kind of dissolve the lesions and they eventually clear up.
There seem to be many reasons why people pick like this and you have tried to help but ran into a brick wall. Is there a wound care clinic where you can take him? maybe there is something you can access through the diabetic clinic.
Is his diabetes well controlled?
I hate the idea of the two of you with cardboard between you. Can you arrange your chairs in front of the TV at an angle so you are turned away from him.
Did the Zoloft actually control the behavior? Maye try a much smaller dose or something else as Jeanne suggested. Remember all these drugs take about two weeks to become effective
If the lessions itch you can buy a 4% lidocaine gell OTC which is very effective and reasonable. There is also a 5% ointment which is prescription and horrendously expensive and only slightly better.
Not an easy situation to deal with but don't be embarrassed you are not doing the picking
Helpful Answer (5)
Reply to Veronica91

My FIL was a picker and also a squeezer. Both his daughters have scars on their faces from his constant picking. He passed this nasty habit to his son, my hubby. Hubby already has compromised skin from being bedridden. He knows he’s doing it and continues and when he picks until the area bleeds, he denies he did it, half-kidding. I’ve gotten some games for us to play. “Uno” is one, that keep him entertained. It’s brought us closer and made him less annoying.

I totally agree with the dermatologist visit though. It may not be skin-related but the doctor may give you ideas on where to go from there.
Helpful Answer (5)
Reply to Ahmijoy

You don't say how old he is. I guess I'm a picker too. I have small scabs on my shoulders and other body parts from tremendous itching. I have diabetes type 2, fibromyalgia, and thyroid deficiency. If he has any of these symptoms/diseases they can all make him itch. I have tried creams, lotions, and antihistamines, but, the only drug that helps with it is Xanax. I have heard these nerves may be trying to transmit pain, but what the body feels is an itch. Since it may be a central nervous problem making him itch, the Xanax helps with that feeling. He might not need the Xanax, maybe klonopin can help with the itching. If his condition is like mine, had a heart attack, and with the above conditions, if his health is failing, his Dr. might not want to give him a benzodiazepine. My Dr won't prescribe for me either. I have to get it from a friend. Makes me damn angry about it to. He needs to stay away from hot showers, or hot room temperatures, and overly warm clothes. I've also heard that tepid colloidal oatmeal baths can help. I feel for him because not too many doctors are understanding about this itch. It can be unrelenting, and debilitating. Any visitors that he gets just need to be understanding, and non-judgemental. I'm sure he can't help it. Good luck to you both.
Helpful Answer (5)
Reply to Danybegood1

You don't ask him if he wants to see a psychiatrist. You take him to one for an effective treatment plan.

There are so many SSRIs available; get with a psychiatrist who will work to find a med and a dosage that works.

If an initial dosage causes him to appear over-medicated, CALL the doctor and ask what to do. Don't just stop the drug.
Helpful Answer (3)
Reply to BarbBrooklyn

Older men tend to get a 'fungus' of sorts. You can try a lot of antifungal products (Ting spray works, but not for long) - but what finally worked for my DH is a mixture of Triamcinalone and Ketoconzaole - both are prescription and both are supplied by the VA. Also, both were advised by a dermatologist for a situation on his feet. Just by luck I remembered and tried on his hands and arms and the relief is almost immediate. Now I only have to use it intermittently when the itching comes back.

This is a serious medical condition and you need to address it. Scratching the skin the way they do, opens them up to all manner of infections, including the dreaded Staph.
Helpful Answer (3)
Reply to RayLinStephens

Long sleeves didn't help. Sores are much better now after meds and BagBalm with pumice. He occasionally touches his arms to see how they are, but no picking. Skin is much smoother. Progress! I appreciate all the input and support I got here.
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Reply to oaoos1492

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