What causes someone with dementia to tap on tables, when not occupied?

9 answers | Last updated: Sep 12, 2016
Clipper asked...

When out and he is disinterested/can't follow a conversation or is at a music venue, he taps on the table which is a distraction to others and me. when not occupied with an activity he will do it also, do it sometimes quite hard to make a loud noise. At adult day care he does it and it irritates other clients. I was thinking maybe he should be on some sort of tranquilizer. I don't want him to be like a zoombie as he is on enough meds already. Any ideas out there? Clipper

Expert Answers

Ladislav Volicer, M.D., Ph.D., is recognized as an international expert on advanced dementia care. He is a courtesy full professor at the School of Aging Studies, University of South Florida, Tampa, and visiting professor at the Third Medical Faculty, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic. Twenty-five years ago, he established one of the first dementia special care units.

What he is doing is caused by boredom. What he needs is a meaningful activity; music that he likes, simple conversation/reminiscence, simple activity like sorting. You certainly would not want to treat it with sedating medication that would decrease his quality of life.

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Community Answers

Brenda avadian answered...

Actually, he is remaining occupied.Tapping on tables is likely a comforting way for him to be doing something, to be involved, and maybe even express himself.

There is truly no harm done aside from the irritation it causes others.

To sedate him would harm him and likely cause his dementia to progress even further (check with a doctor on this).

But his tapping"”the physical activity and the noise is his way of expressing himself when conversations, music, or activities grow overwhelming and his brain can't process them.

In these situations, he resorts to something he knows Tapping.

Now, if some well-meaning person gave him a drum, we'd be talking about an entirely different matter!

For more information read this related article: Does moaning make someone feel better?

Merrily orsini answered...

One thing I would add is that someone with dementia needs an environment suited to him or her specifically. Expecting someone with dementia to conform to a regular environment, or in a standard setting, almost always leads to disappointment, embarrassment or worse. They really have no control over their behavior, and certainly are incapable of understanding what others expect.

My suggestion would be to find a place that is suited to the person, where he can, as Dr. Volicer states, find something meaningful to do that suits him.

A fellow caregiver answered...

Get him an iPod and earphones, with music selected that you know he likes, from his younger days. Recent research shows amazing results.

A fellow caregiver answered...

Tapping seems pretty minor to me, and I see people of all ages do it when they are standing around waiting for someone or something. It could be a LOT worse. My father-in-law if we are out to dinner and talking about something he is not particularly interested in (like his great-grandkids), will intentionally make the loudest sneeze he can (usually load enough so that everyone in the restaurant will turn around).

Joebush answered...

We have a friend that is very music minded, and for years he hums and taps the table....when he does , my precious lady copy's him...for her , music is the answer...I get all the CD's I can, of the music she loves....and I love listening to her sing every word...she knows them all by heart.....yesterday we were in Texas Roadhouse (steak place) and they were singing Happy birthday to a table across the room from us...I seen her singing right along...and it was her birthday, and they came and sand to her, and she sang right along...she never sings to loud, I read her lips more than anything.

Jmacaf answered...

You could also try an activity lap blanket. Similar to the books we give babies, in a grown-up version. They can probably be purchased, or a crafty friend could make one. Include different texture fabrics, buttons, zippers, pockets with little surprises inside. Instead of tapping, he can keep himself occupied & interested.

Ca-claire answered...

I have noticed this once in a while in elderly people around me. It's kind of like the men who stand around with their hands in their pocket rustling their keys and pocket change, which is much more annoying than table taping.

The tapping could also be a function of parkinson tremors. They may be trying to hold their hand still, which makes the intentional tremor even more intense. There is finger exercisers that you can buy, and also the Power Putty that the Physical Therapists use which can help strengthen the hand, rather than the tapping on the table.

Good luck all!

A fellow caregiver answered...

When I was a little girl, my stepmother took me to the doctor because I coughed. He coud not find anything wrong with me but said he thought I coughed just to let them to know I was there. People with dementia do revert to childish behavours, maybe he just wants you to know he is there.