You thought you could continue caring for your elderly parent at home, even though they have a certain level of dementia and you can't always be supervising. Recently, a new problem has developed, which you would not have discovered except that your parent became physically ill. Apparently this individual is eating substances that aren't technically food. Craving for non-food items is medically known as pica.

Is there any way to manage this problem at home or is a nursing home inevitable now? Consider hiring a home care service to supervise your loved one when you're away or when you're sleeping.

About Pica Behavior

Pica isn't limited to people suffering from dementia. This compulsion to eat non-food items actually is most common in toddlers and people with developmental disabilities. Pregnant women sometimes experience pica.

Some substances people with pica consume include paper products, dirt and soap. Eating food components such as raw flour or baking soda also is considered pica behavior. Obviously, doing this can make a person sick, but worse consequences may occur when an individual eats substances such as paint, metal or glass. 

Pica Causes

Definitive causes for pica are still unknown, which can make the condition difficult to resolve. One theory is that people crave these non-food items if they are deficient in a certain mineral or vitamin. A compulsion to eat ice, for instance, is connected with iron-deficiency anemia. However, not everyone with pica has such a deficiency.

Another theory is that pica falls somewhere on the obsessive-compulsive disorder spectrum. 

Medical Treatment for Pica

If you haven't already done so, consult with your parent's primary care doctor about the problem. Arrange for blood tests to determine whether any mineral deficiency could be causing cravings. A high-quality multivitamin supplement may resolve the problem. 

Doctors sometimes prescribe antidepressants or antipsychotic drugs for pica. Unfortunately, some of these medications are unsuitable for dementia patients and can even be harmful.  

How Home Care Can Help

In many cases, nobody knows about the person in the family eating non-food substances until they start vomiting or a medical emergency happens. The behavior is easily hidden from others.

With a professional caregiver in the home, somebody is there to monitor your relative's eating habits. If the dementia patient has been consuming non-food items at night and you've been sleeping through the episodes, you may want to have home care on the site while you're asleep. 

The caregiver can keep the patient distracted with various strategies, such as enticing them with games or other activities they enjoy. 

Contact a home health care agency, like ComForcare Home Care - Kalamazoo, MI, to explain your situation. This is a practical step toward managing your situation and allowing your loved one to continue living at home.