My sister hums constantly, to the point of annoyance. Is this common in Alzheimer’s disease?

Every action has meaning. So, your sister’s humming may be a way of communicating something since the disease is impacting her words and language. She might be trying to mask her lack of vocabulary, be worried about something or possibly lonely or experiencing physical pain.

Or, she could just be humming because she misses the attention and intimacy of being in relationship with others as she may feel very isolated in her present condition.

Sometimes the “action” of humming can just be a security reflex, a mannerism like biting nails, which makes your sister feel secure and gives her comfort. Though irritating for you, for your sister the humming is a coping mechanism, possibly to counter the fear and loss of control in her life. Humming, as well as other types of behaviors in Alzheimer’s disease, can become compulsive, if indeed, it is easing her anxiety.

Getting frustrated and antagonistic will not stop your sister from humming, nor will it subside if you tell her to stop or try to reason with her that it is irritating.

In fact, it might make matters worse. Individuals with Alzheimer’s do not have the capacity to understand or reason so your efforts are futile.

Try redirecting her with activities she especially enjoys. Play some favorite music and/or songs that she can sing. Ask what song she’s humming, and if she can respond, play it for her. To stimulate dialogue, keep asking questions, such as “Why is that your favorite song?” “Tell me when you first heard it,” etc.

You may want to try to go for a walk outside or have her assist you with gardening or simple outdoor chores. Involve her in your daily activities and give her lots of chances for meaningful dialogue.

Again, your sister is looking to be in relationship. For you, as her caregiver, you may have to work on your reactions to her humming, like watching your facial expressions and giving her reassuring smiles for comfort. In time, as the disease progresses, the humming will most likely stop and you may even miss it a little.

Questions about Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia disorder? Contact Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, Director of Services at Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area, (225) 334-7494, advice@alzbr.org, or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.