Dermatillomania is a disorder characterized by the repetitive picking of one’s own skin. It has been reported by individuals with attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity disorder, depression, Parkinson’s disease, stress and anxiety and Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

As dementia progresses and most commonly during the middle stages of the disease, the affected person becomes less aware of the surroundings and what is going on around him or her. The person instead focuses on things that are in a narrow field of space around him or her.

Dermatillomania, also known as excoriation disorder, often occurs during this time. The affected individual seems intrigued by picking at things such as lint from the floor or the trims from clothing. This picking behavior can lead to picking at the skin or hair, which then becomes worrisome as they may pick so much that scabs form, bleeding occurs or patches of missing hairs develop on the head.

As the affected individual is trying to attend to things within arm’s reach, picking becomes like a concentrated pursuit. The individual might see a mole or a scab and the first reaction is to eliminate it or just pick at it for something to do.

Managing this behavior is often difficult, especially if it becomes compulsive. It could also be caused by depression, stress or anxiety or that the person feels insecure or just bored.

Make sure the person's skin is not dry. Long-sleeve shirts or a hat or scarf over the head are interventions that might alleviate the actions. Other solutions are to keep the individual's hands busy with things they can manipulate or fiddle with and move around, such as sorting buttons or nuts and bolts, folding small items like ties or handkerchiefs, working a very large-piece puzzle.

There might also be a medical reason behind the behavior, such as an allergy to a soap or laundry detergent, or he or she may have an infection, such as a urinary tract infection. Additionally, picking can be a response to pain although the pain may not be at the spot being picked.

A doctor should be consulted if the picking behavior cannot be managed. Oftentimes, dermatillomania can be treated with medications.

Questions about Alzheimer's disease or a related disorder can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, director of services at Alzheimer's Services of the Capital Area at advice@alzbr.org or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.