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Involuntary geriatric pseudo--phonation

by Greg L. Biddle
(Pittsburgh, Pa)

Photo Credit: Eleaf

Photo Credit: Eleaf

Can you please suggest what might be causing a relatively constant grunting or whimpering in my 93 year old widowed mom, in probable stage 3 or 4 dementia, otherwise in good health?

She lives with my brother and I (bachelors, 55 years and 62 years old, respectively) in the house in which she and our father raised us since we were babies. She is our beloved treasure and she knows it. She attends an excellent adult day care, 5 days a week, from 8:00am to 4:30pm, eats well, sleeps through the night, walks with a walker and is encouraged to retain what independence she can (feeds herself, assists with bathing and dressing).

She knows who we are, always, knows her home and keeps to a routine that is maintained as constant as possible. In addition to my brother and I, there are a few other family members, but mostly younger generations with their own busy lives, whom we see usually only once a year.

Mom has a sister, twelve years her junior, with whom she keeps in touch, periodically, by phone, and in two or three personal visits a year. We have good neighbors and a network of friends who visit often. Given these connections and the well-run day care with committed and gregarious staff, Mom does not lack frequent and engaging quality social contacts.

She is not always aware she is making the grunting sounds, but sometimes is, but less and less aware and increasingly less able to stop, if asked. She is otherwise cooperative and happy at both day care and home. She often doesn’t remember what happened a few hours ago, or even a few minutes ago, but remembers in great detail many experiences from the long past.

She remembers certain prayers (Grace at meals and the Lord’s Prayer) and is always tucked in at night with a ritual of prayers and “I love yous”. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for her to be anxious but that’s what the whimpering/grunting sounds like. She says she has no pain and if you ask her if anything is wrong she always says “no”.

We are not wealthy, but we are solidly middle-class, get all the bills paid and do not lack or suffer shortage of any of the ordinary necessities, and even manage one or two frills.

We have no tension over money problems, or any other problem for that matter, and live in supportive, secure harmony and genuine happiness and care for one another. So, Mom does not live in an atmosphere of even moderate tension and/or strife and instability or dysfunctional behavior that I can identify.

If anybody could help us understand why she keeps making these sounds (sometimes very softly, sometimes almost as loud as normal speech) it would help us accept and deal with it without anxiety on our part, either from worry that something is wrong or from what sometimes grows to an annoyance of having to hear it for an extended period of time.

I have noticed that it increases at meal time (whether we are all seated at the table or at TV trays in the den) and if the TV is turned up.

Thank you.

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