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

10 answers | Last updated: Nov 10, 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.


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.


Abrarahmad answered...

Let me briefly tell you that there are multiple forms of dementia - alzheimer’s disease being the most common one that accounts for 40 to 75% of dementia cases and is the sixth leading cause of death in United States. Additionally, dementia and its types have common signs with some variations. Let’s start with the most common signs of dementia most commonly seen in patients at the early stages of the disease. They start experiencing subtle memory loss, mood instability such as immediate occurrences of maniac (laugh) and depression (sadness) episodes, and have trouble with listening and explaining things to other people, communicational obstructions to be exact. They also segregate their selves from social gatherings and unions, face difficulty in performing daily chores and also experience muscle impairment. Additionally, some people fail to converse with other people because they fail to keep up the pace and comparatively take longer to process the coming words and repeat the same question over and over again. Most of the cases showed that, dementia patients start segregating their selves and start living alone because they could not keep up with the lives of normal people. They just are not up for the adaptation to change. In one of the form of dementia, which is Lewy Body dementia, probable signs appear to be sleeplessness. Patients experience insomnia which leads to mood swings. It has been seen that they fail to keep tracks of roads and lose their tracking skills as well. In case of Alzheimer’s, a patient the most common signs are memory loss and forgetfulness. In some cases, it has been observed that people with Alzheimer’s segregate their selves from others. Additionally, they experience complete memory loss and trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships, lack the judgement skill and a complete withdrawal from work or social activities. One most commonly observed is the forgetfulness and inability to retrace steps. There is another type of dementia called Parkinson’s characterized as uncontrollable movement of body parts such a shaking limbs and fingers. It has been observed that patients experience writing and speech changes, their ability to respond fails badly and they lose posture and balance. One of the common sign is bradykinesia characterized as slow body movement. One thing to keep in mind before labelling someone as a dementia patient is that forgetfulness and memory loss do no really mean a person has dementia because memory loss and forgetfulness are a normal parts of aging. But if any severity has been observed in these signs, a patient definitely requires a professional advice and consultation. There is no cookie approach to cure dementia but if you observe such changings or signs in your loved ones do not take it for granted before it gets too late.