My SIL with Alzheimer's for many years has now taken to picking at her teeth, in the past it was pulling on the side of her wig.

As a result of her latest activities, her gums are quite swollen and inflamed.

Has anyone else had this problem and what can be done to stop it, if anything?


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From this site: “There are a variety of reasons why a senior may be engaging in this behavior, one of which is the possibility of having developed a Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior (BFRB) known as excoriation disorder or compulsive skin picking disorder. This is a widely experienced, yet little known disorder characterized by the urge to compulsively pick, scratch or pull at any area of the skin. However, it is important to note that one of the diagnostic criteria for excoriation disorder is the exclusion of any other medical or psychogenic reason for the behavior. It is therefore important to first rule out any dermatological conditions such as allergic rash or medication side effects, and to exclude the presence of tactile hallucinations or delusional thought patterns, which are common in some forms of progressive dementia. It is therefore imperative that you consult with your prescribing physician or health care professional about your concerns.”

if you can get her to a dentist, she may have a sore spot in her mouth and thinks she needs to “get it out”. The wig may be itching her. Is it cleaned regularly? Is her own hair/scalp washed regularly? Maybe instead of a wig, she could wear a soft headscarf.
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From what I have seen, it's rather common for people with dementia to pick at things. Some continuously tear up pieces of tissue or paper towel. Some pace, some pick up items, move them, then move them back. I'd have her mouth checked by a dentist to ensure that she doesn't have an abscess or sore gum, first,and after ruling out mouth issue, discuss it with her doctor. I'd explore if medications for anxiety would be helpful. Sometimes, the stress and anxiety from dementia seem to cause the repetitive behavior to increase. AND, if she's already taking any medications for depression, they might evaluate them, as over periods of time, they can cause repetitive movements too. If her primary treats people with dementia, they should know the things to look for and what to rule out.

You might also try to see if she will use a fidget board or quilt. It's like a piece of fabric with little pieces of things attached that invite the dementia patient to touch and fidget with. It keeps their hands busy. You can find them online at stores for dementia patients.
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anonymous828521 Nov 2018
That's very interesting cuz my 90 yr old mother does have some of those habits. However, I think it's anxiety with her, since her sisters were a complete mess even in their youth. I also wish that my mother would have seen a shrink & gotten some meds, so our childhood wouldn't have been absolutely terifying. (Sigh)
I HATE the feel of wigs myself. My mother’s hair is thinning but I will never get her a wig because she would never adjust to it. Like Ahmijoy suggested, I would rather try some pretty and comfortable head scarves or perhaps a lightweight, comfortable, pretty hat. My mother consistenrly picks at her face after a bout with facial shingles due to post herpetic neuralgia. Doc put her on a new med to help and it has given her a large degree of relief. Mayby a dental visit could provide answers and possible remedies for oral relief for your mother at this point.
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