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Is this odd dementia behavior normal in the late stages?

My dad who has had Alzheimer's for 10 years and is on hospice is doing the weirdest thing. He's rubbing any type of fabric between his fingers and he will keep this up all day if he is not redirected, he actually has calluses on his fingers & thumb from it. It especially happens with fuzzy blankets or robes or flannel pajamas.
Status: Open    Feb 19, 2016 - 09:50 PM


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Mar 13, 2016 - 02:32 PM

Many people at this stage need to feel useful and purposeful. They also lack an amount of "sensory input." This results in rubbing, picking, wandering, etc.

If able, I would recommend items and tasks that he can "help with" inorder to satisfy this sensory need - repetitive activities such as washing a table with a rag, nuts and bolts, sorting junk drawers or folding laundry can help. If following through on tasks is difficult, I would recommend fidgets. These are items that someone can mess with to occupy themselves instead of an unwanted behavior. Google "fidget blankets" for some ideas.


Jul 06, 2016 - 03:52 PM

Although this is not my area of expertise, my father lives in memory care and they have lap pillows with various interesting objects attached. Fiddling with them seems to calm some people when they get agitated.

Jul 07, 2016 - 08:19 AM

This is indeed a quite common behavior. Your dad is probably seeking psychological and sensory comfort from this repetitive behavior (repetitive behavior in general can be a characteristic expression of some kinds of dementia). Perhaps you recall from childhood having a silky blanket binding (or a fuzzy blanket) that you would rub between your fingers for comfort? This is a similar situation. My suggestion would be to ensure that whatever fabric he is responding to is as soft and non-abrasive as possible, which will mitigate the callusing. But I would recommend that if he is finding comfort in this behavior, you try to respect that and see it as an act of choice on his part. I know it’s easy to say and harder to do.

Jul 07, 2016 - 08:24 AM

It’s very possible that your dad is being calmed by stimulation of his tactile senses. Late state Alzheimer’s impairs so many of the patient’s senses and makes it difficult to interact with the environment so maybe he’s using the most acute sense he has. Try replacing some of the rubbing with other activities that he can feel like applying lotion, massages and head rubs. And consider replacing the fabric that he rubs with something extra soft like maybe a baby blanket (in a non-baby print?)
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