My mother has started “chewing” and making this clicking noise with her mouth.

She looks like she has a mouthful of food but her mouth is empty, this is not a denture issue. Her tongue is darting in and out of her mouth. If she keeps her lips together none of this happens. She is 96 years old and lives with my husband and I. This is her only “bad” habit, why does she do this, it is extremely irritating to hear this while watching TV or sitting quietly. She does not want to sit in another room and doesn’t want us to. Please help.

This behavior can happen with dementia. Called perseveration, it’s defined as uncontrollable repetition of a particular response, such as a word, phrase, or gesture that can happen without a cause usually caused by a brain injury or disorder like Alzheimer’s disease.

I’d recommend checking with her doctor and/or dentist to be sure there isn’t a medical cause. Some medications can cause the mouth to be dry or there could be other problems.

Assuming that this is not the problem, would a piece of hard candy or popsicle help change the behavior? Other finger foods?

You write that this is her only “bad habit.” Do your best to accept that this isn’t a “bad habit” per se but more a byproduct of her dementia. You may have to accept the situation and work on your own response. With any luck, sometimes behaviors like this eventually go away.

14 thoughts on “My mother has started “chewing” and making this clicking noise with her mouth.

  • Linda

    My mother is in the last stage of dementia. She can only say a few statements, but is unable to have a conversation. She has to be fed soft food and drink with a straw. She has to be changed and bathed from bed. She sleeps most of the time in a chair or in bed. We use a lifter to transport her from the bedroom to the living room. She seems to recognize our faces and voices but doesn’t know our names anymore. She cries sometimes and tries to talk but the words aren’t clear to us—more like jibberish. She is in another world and it makes me feel so sad. What is she thinking

    • Saleha

      My paternal Grandmother most probably has dementia.She was never actually diagnosed.The doctors said it was an age factor.I was young when her health started deteriorating. We have always lived with her.She was great about 8 years back.She used to enjoy eating snacks with us children. We would take her outside to our garden each evening in wheel chair(she still had arthritis at that time).She could go to washroom using support.She could do her basic daily life stuff like eating ,talking ,bathing etc.
      She slowly started going downhill.First she couldn’t go to washroom. Then she had to be spoon fed… Ultimately she is now given liquid food and her diaper is changed on bed.
      My mother takes care of her as if she’s her own mother and not her mother in law. She is amazing.So selfless and kind.
      As I’m writing this,my sisters are feeding my grand mother(Dadi Ama in my language Urdu).And I have been curious why she keeps doing mastication even when she’s not eating food.(I’m a medical student) May be because she has lost her lower incisors.
      But yet I already miss her as person because she’s there but she doesn’t recognise us… She does remember my father’s name and her other children’s but not her grandchildrens’.She can’t see much.Our family ophthalmologist said she has lost her vision but I believe she does have a slight vision(she could differentiate between light and dark and if someone’s standing in front of her or not)
      Recently I came back to home from my medical school which is about 1000 km away from home and I realised she doesn’t even answer our questions(which she used to do previously)and I felt so depressed.But when I talked a bit louder right in front of her ear she replied!!! Sigh
      Rejoiced, I told my mother. I talked with Dadi ama (a few sentences) and then she told me to shut up hehe.Even hearing a shut up call from a loved one is sometimes a great joy!!!

  • Lauren

    My grandmother passed already a few years ago. I witnessed the loss is tough on a family. I never did speak with her about her experiences with the dementia. I felt closer to her in some ways, was it formalities were lowered we connected more simply as humans who loved one another. Was I more aware to cherish time & moments with her. When I would visit sometimes it took a while, she would be sitting dully, but then a shift in her energy – did she recognise my energy it felt like. I felt listened to by my Nan, reducing me to tears with a one-word sentence.

  • Maria

    RE: Linda – it has been beneficial for me to have read that there are two “flows” of information for a person – what comes in, and what goes out – meaning: a person can understand information that comes in (i.e. other people talking to you), but may not be able to formulate words on their own, so they sound as though they are speaking “gibberish” – it’s frustrating for them to try to respond, but meanwhile, they understand what you are saying to them! I have long talks with my Mom, and i know she understands me. I help her respond, with suggested words, to which she nods.

  • Joseph Drago

    My wife has been making the clicking noise, moving her tongue in-out around her mouth, chewing or moving her jaw around, and twitch usually on left side. This did not start till she had teeth extracted and 2 implants. If she lays down all mouth movement and noise stop. The oral surgeon could not detect anything. I am guessing it is part of Alzheimer’s. But how do I cope? The noise just grates my nerves.

  • David Conway

    My best friend has chattering of his teeth could medical marijuana help it sounds like the same thing as the people have talked about

  • Sara

    She can’t help it, and it isn’t a behavior which can be changed by any external factors. I don’t mean to sound dismissive, but the best advice I can give is to learn to live with it. I find it much easier when you, yourself, come from a place of acceptance and remind yourself this is part of the disease process and she isn’t doing it to annoy you. It takes patience and practice, but that was effective for me.

  • Margaret

    How can I help myself from going crazy listening to this clicking

  • Debi

    I came across this website wondering if anyone used any of the chew toys that are available for use by children with Autism and Sensory Processing Disorders. As a Certified Dementia Practitioner I have seen many people ‘chewing’ nothing but I checked out their mouths in a panic thinking they got hold of something that they shouldn’t. I have seen people chew on napkins or even save some of the meat or other chewy food from a meal in their cheek pocket to chew on later. I think the Chew toy option might work well for some in a family situation. If they’re in a Nursing Home or other program it would probably need a Doctor’s order and might be considered a dignity issue. I’m inclined to think let them be as happy as they can be as long as they are safe.

    • Barbara

      I have tried all sorts of chew toys from baby to autism to dog and my Mom tears them apart. Now I give her a sterilized white wash cloth to chew on

  • Maraia

    My mom she is 81 and she does move her tongue in and out, making this annoying noises.
    I have read all comments but my mom doesn’t have Alzheimer.

  • Rachel

    My grandma is 95 and takes a very small dose of quetiapine (seroquel), and she makes these repetitive clicking, chewing, and lip smacking noises. I believe she has tardive dyskenesia, which can be a side effect of antipsychotics and other medications. It is very distracting when trying to watch tv or listen to music but she says she can’t control the sounds or movements.

  • Surekha

    My father chewing his tongue all the time he is a dementia patient the tongue become large in size he is unable to talk clearly difficulty in eating what should we do

  • Elisa Carney

    My 93 year old mother has been diagnosed with both vascular dementia and Alzheimers. She has started the smacking and chewing and moving her tongue in a repetitive manner inside her empty mouth. I’ve asked her about this and she says she is not aware that she’s even doing it. She will stop briefly when it is brought to her attention, but soon starts in again. I have taken to either using earplugs, moving out of hearing range or putting on earphones paired to our TV if we are watching a movie. It is quite annoying to be subjected to the noises, for sure, and I sympathize with others on this site.

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