The Losses of Age
INTERESTING STUFF – 5 May 2018

About Those Funny Little Noises I've Been Making

“Mmmm. Mmmm. Mmmm. Mmmm.” It surprised me when I heard that little noise. Emanating from?

Me! It was me making that little noise. This is weird.

In recent weeks, I've caught myself several times making strange little noises – mmmm, mmmm, mmmm, mmmm or unh, unh, unh, unh or hooh, hooh, hooh, hooh or something similar.

There seems to be no reason for them. I might be at the computer or watching TV, reading a book or just doing nothing. Then I catch myself going, “unh, unh, unh, unh” and I have no idea if I do it only when I'm alone or when I'm in the grocery store or anywhere else.

It doesn't seem to be connected to any thought or disturbance or related to any kind of feeling or emotion. It just is. And I don't know if I catch it every time or if it goes on without my notice.

Is this an old person thing? I wondered. I've never noticed it in other old people (or people of any other age) and I'm pretty sure it's something new with me. So, of course, I took to the internet.

There isn't much but I found this in a two-year-old discussion at metafilter:

”My grandpa, who was ~65-85 while I knew him, was always making noises,” writes Polycarp. “Little humming breaths, the uhs, tons of mmms...He was playing wiffle ball and mowing the lawn into his early 80s, so it didn't seem to have any health ramifications, and I'm sure he wasn't that way when he was younger...”

Some people say unconscious sounds from old people are related to hearing loss and/or cognitive decline. On the same metafilter page, beagle writes,

”This is also a typical attribute of people with dementia. For that population it often expands to include repeated words or phrases. The author of the linked study suggests that the behavior is associated with anxiety or agitation and that the vocalizations are 'self-soothing.'”

That study link goes to an abstract of a report on dementia only. Almost all the small amount of discussion I could find references old people who are not cognitively impaired.

Here is another, named Mismatchedsock, from the metafilter page:

"I work in a hospital with an almost exclusively retired population. I'm in and out of different rooms all day long for 10-15 minute stretches and I'd say 20 percent of my patients do this. Some of them also have hearing loss but it doesn't always coincide. I used to think it was because they were nervous. But if I asked, most of them said they didn't realize they were doing it."

In general, it is adult children who have commented on this phenomenon, one they universally find annoying, as AMTIRED2 and ugeh37 report at agingcare.com:

”Mom is constant with the same verbal sounds - nothing in the house to trigger it, Oh ho ho- from the moment the little souls [sic] feet hit the floor in the morning to bed time - it is like chalk screeching across a black board in my head.”
”My mother...makes noise constantly. Sometimes it's kind of musical, but when I say musical think of the random, chaotic, insane, melody you might here in a horror movie about a psycho.

“Much of the time it's just random humming. Very loud random humming. She does it constantly, from the time she get's up, until she lays down at night. If she's moving, she's making noise.

“I've tried ignoring it, and sometimes I can manage it, but its like Chinese water torture.”

At another website, commenters discussed the grunts and groans of ageing bodies such as while taking off boots or shoes, getting up from a chair, climbing stairs, etc. but this isn't what I mean.

As far as I can tell, my weird little sounds are unrelated to any physical effort. They just appear and as I noted above, I have no idea if I always hear them or if they happen sometimes without my awareness.

Fortunately, this is no big deal, nothing to get exercised about. Just strange.

Do any of you know what I'm talking about?


Comments

If I didn't make funny little noises from time to time, I wouldn't know if my voice still worked. Same goes for talking with/to my dog. It's only annoying when other people do it. LOL

I was sitting next to my almost 70yr old brother on Monday and he was doing the mmm, mmm sound. I have noticed it before and it’s usually while we’re eating. I guess I just thought he was enjoying his food. But then I usually only see him when we’re getting together for a meal so I don’t know if he does it other times. I don’t know of any health problems he may be having.

Funny. I have found myself doing this in the past 6 months or so. I am usually doing something like walking around the kitchen preparing dinner or performing any task around the house. It's the mmm, mmm, mmm sound over and over. It's not loud and none of my family members have pointed it out. I am 66 and have hearing loss but it's been that way since I was in my 20'2. I tend to think it's a habit of some sort.

So far, I don't do this. Or do I?

It's a comforting condition to me, one coming from the body and the mind, (which is considered part of the body, yes? Seems the two are generally spoken of as influencing one another, but separate entities).

So long as one's not grimacing from a pain or mental disturbs, it shows nor causes any harm.

I know I talk to myself and the cat and I know I frequently make a groan when getting up from a chair. I sing along with the oldies while listening to Pandora. But I don’t think I hmmm at other times.

I don't know about this and haven't noticed it in anyone, but I'm not at all surprised to hear it might be a self-soothing mechanism. It can feel good to make some noise. When I get it bed at night after a long tiring day, I often catch myself saying "aaaahhhhh" repeatedly for a minute or so and it actually heightens the sense of relief and relaxation of getting horizontal after a long day of being vertical. I know you are speaking about something different, but maybe it's related? My sister was ALWAYS humming as a child (drove me nuts, sometimes) and frequently still hums. She was an axious child and is anxious adult. Maybe these little noises are like talking to yourself (which I sometimes do), but without the articulation?

My mother did it, and I guess I do too. I make those noises but have always chalked it up to living alone and just communicating with my cat. However, I repeat those hum, hum sounds or sometimes even little statements, “I don’t know,” or “Uh huh,” when I’m all alone. I know this because a weekend visitor pointed it out (“You talk to yourself, you know.”) when I pointed out to her that her behavior changed when she had that second cocktail. We both laughed at our desires to keep each other aware.
Is it better that we try not to make these noises?

I first noticed "the noise" when lunching with my 85-year-old aunt about 10 years ago. I asked her if she was all right and she assured me that she was! Now 80, myself, I noticed that I started making "the noise" a few months ago. I associate it with the release of a little gasp of air; but, that may be my imagination.

Since this is Star Wars Day, perhaps we should blame this wide-spread phenomenon to being probed by an alien force.

My dear grandma made a kind of silent, whistling breath, perhaps while hearing an accompanying song in her head. I loved it. Also, her fingers were constantly moving the plasticene (?) book cover about when she read, making a crinkly sound. Loved that too.
I've always been a bit noisy, singing, or talking to animals, plants, clouds, spiders, myself, whatever.Now my hearing aids make singing much more interesting. I do occasionally hear myself start up in the grocery store, but who cares? Harmless, harmless. I don't think we should try to stop ourselves, we have more disciplines now than ever.
Hum away hummers, unhuh, unhuh, oh yeah.

I make a little clicking noise. I noticed it first when I was caring for my sister when she had cancer. I find I do it now when I'm stressed, confused or frustrated and I think it's an anxiety reduced for me.

I seem to be emitting a lot of "ohhh!" sounds...as if everything has stumped me all my life and now I'm just figuring it out/putting the pieces together.

I am so relieved to read so many of my peers are cat people and probably speak "cat" as fluently as I do. Or perhaps it's the cat who speaks fluently.

I digress - I think (hope) when we make the mmmm, the huh, or the oh yes/no noises, we are responding to a subconscious conversation that doesn't quite make it to the top, so to speak, OR it could be that alien force. Not sure which one I prefer.

However, since so many of us do it, it has to be part of our aging evolution.

I believe it is related to aging. I have noticed this in friends my age who make repetitive humming or huffing sounds. My mother-in-law used to rub together pieces of fabric, plastic, paper, etc., anything that made some sort of scritching noise.

Does swearing at the tv news count? Sometimes it feels good to say the F word when I hear something outrageous.
When I ask Siri to make a call, and I push the wrong button (which makes me swear) Siri will admonish me. "Now now" or something similar...it makes me laugh.💕

My husband points out when I'm making the "mmm, mmm" sound. I am never aware that I am doing this. Doesn't happen very often but it's kind of freaky to me since I never hear myself doing it. Glad to read that others do this; makes it less strange somehow. Aging is not without its constant surprises.

I live alone and if I'm doing this, I'm not yet aware of it. I probably groan sometimes when getting up from the couch or bending to feed the pets. It's a conscious effort to talk to the dog and cat occasionally, just to acknowledge their presence and assert mine. But otherwise, I'm silent.

I talk to myself at 66 and my mother did as well most of her older years. As dementia increased, it became more of a mmm sound. My boyfriend (75) does a loud humming, not a tune. I found out it’s called bombinating.

Omigosh. Yes. My mom (highly intelligent, educated, active) started making these noises after breaking her ankle. She's 82. Completely unaware that she makes them and they are all hours of day and night. Odd sounds that she's never made before. I think it is linked to the injury. I was so glad to read your post today.

Dear Ronni, I don't think I do this out loud--this says of a syllable repeatedly. However, when I wrote my Morning Pages each day, I find myself often repeating a word like "Yes!" or "Ok" or something. I will have written a sentence and it's like I have to affirm it several times in my writing. I've noticed the tendency and wondered about it, as you are doing now. Peace.

That’s my wife. Mid-fifties and comes out with these random little sounds, apropos of nothing, then swears she did’t make a sound. Used to drive me nuts, well, for the first year or so, but the first blush of love can make the odd quite acceptable and after ten years orbiting each other it is just another endearing quirk.

I'll have to pay better attention. I know I say "Humph" periodically when I'm reading something on-line but I think that is in response to what I see. I have, however, been caught talking whole words in supermarkets. I usually make a joke about it and the other person laughs. I hope they also do the same thing.

I definitely know what you are talking about, as I make the mmm, mmm sound regularly, particularly in bed. I've put it down to anxiety and a bit of self-soothing, as it does seem to help settle my guts.

As for the grunts in getting up and down and bending, have been doing those for a few years and only noticed it when I saw a Billy Connolly sketch about his doing the same thing, knowing that older age had set in.

Ah well,, no harm to anyone, so carry on.....

I wonder if this (what appears to be) self-soothing verbalizing might be simply a natural form of human expression that's been repressed for most of our lives, and now it's decided not to be repressed any longer. Babies, after all, babble constantly. It's one of their most endearing attributes. "Mmmm, mmmm. Bah bah bah bah"... I think at some level we can all relate to how satisfying and soothing it could be to make basic sounds like that, whenever we happened to feel like it. Heh.

I've often marveled that humans learn to repress, modulate and/or just plain hide so much of what they publicly expressed when they were young: screaming with rage, shrieking with joy, sobbing uncontrollably over anything and everything. And babbling happily away for no reason at all, except that it feels good at some very basic level. And yes I know they're practicing language. But pretty clearly they're also having a really good time doing it.

And then there's the repetitive sounds and chants that meditators of various spiritual persuasions make, while pursuing bliss and inner peace. Om, om. Shanti, shanti. That's not just to help concentrate the mind, it also changes the inner vibration.

Humans are made for verbalizing, from the cradle to the grave. Old people are just coming back to their vibrational roots. That's my theory anyway. Mmm, mmm.

I make noises all the time, have been doing it since I was much younger. Could be grunts, swear words, mutterings, whole discussions with myself or the computer when no one else is around. I find it very satisfying although I'm sure people around me are baffled. My husband just ignores the noises after all these years.

I've decided it's a conversation I'm having w my soul, and my souls saying "um hmmm' - you're doing just fine!

Hi Ronni-- my mom is alone all day except for the cats, and she talks to them, to herself, and makes the continuous unconscious sounds, too. Comparing notes with family, her older brother also made the sounds all the time. No one can recall others who did or do this, not even the grandbabies! Sounds i can usually tune out, but mom also is constantly moving her tongue from the roof of her mouth forward across her top teeth and out across her lower lip (sort of like licking one's lips), making an extremely annoying sound... she is aware she does both, but can't or won't stop. Hearing loss, anxiety, alone a lot, not mobile, mid-80s. Didn't really start till after her 2nd mastectomy in 2009.

Ronni, the dementia theory is one thing you can dismiss as that's one elder thing that you need to worry about.

I don't make the kind of sounds that are being talked about, but I do make oh, oh, oh sounds constantly when I have to walk very far. It's pain related so there is no mystery as to why I am making them.

Boy, do I ever talk to myself though. I think it's a method of coping with being alone. Sometimes it gets me in trouble. The habit of loudly talking to myself got me in trouble with my daughter and granddaughter. My granddaughter had been temporarily sleeping in my media room and when someone is sleeping there I am unable to get to my computer. One morning I was walking down the hall when I saw her big dog sleeping on my couch and I said to myself, "Oh no. She's still here. Bad move on my part, because my granddaughter heard me and told her mother (my daughter) what I had said. I was person non grata for quite a long time.

My Mother in Law had this breathy thing, an under the breath kind of song, very short in duration and she only did it when she was doing something like trying to find something, or starting a new project. It was very cute and endearing and definitely an "old lady" thing.

I'm not making any unusual verbal sounds so far, but as with so many other unpleasant/unwelcome surprises associated with getting old, I may in the future.

My husband occasionally whistles softly and timelessly. Fortunately it’s not very often, much less constant. For a while our little grandson grunted and groaned when bending over etc. in imitation of Grandma and Grampa...I loved it!

I completely understand what you are talking about. I occasionally make some little sounds when I am working at something, but the moment I become aware I stop. I encountered many people over the years who make various sounds. Some go on daily, some are random. But I find then all annoying; there is no "off" button to push to end this noise.

I don't necessarily think it is age-related, for I have experienced this in people of many ages. Could it be OCD? Is it some self-soothing mechanism? All I know is I find it bothersome. So I guess it is a good thing I live alone!

Strangely, I find myself saying (both aloud and in my head) "AND SHE SAID". Just those words, often several times in a row. I have no idea what she said or why only that she said. Seem to say it when I am moving around and feeling really good.
I have been nervous about telling anyone this as they might call the guys in the white coats (whoops, forgot they don't exist anymore so I guess they would send me to jail). LOL. Anyone have any ideas.

My husband talks to things on the computer all the time, more of hmph than anything else. I talk to myself in stores. Sometimes I look around to see if anyone was in hearing range but have decided that it's who I am and unless it makes someone very upset and they say something, I'll keep talking to myself.

Not that I'm aware of though I talk to myself when under stress....:)

Ive talked or sworn aloud for many years including younger ones
For awhile after watching an old tv series I had a habit of making those Hmm hmmm sounds as the actor did. Broke the habit when I realized it was happening. But the groaning on getting up is new. Wish that would go away.

It reminds me of Australian friends who kind of hum when they process what you said. It’s lovely to experience.

I am losing it. I did read my post before sending it and still missed the word in my first sentence that changed the meaning. I should have said, "that's one elder problem that you DON'T need to worry about. I hope you knew what I meant to say, even though I said the opposite.

Only wheezing, coughing, popping, and "kvetching" (Oy!) noises here.
Perhaps you could record yourself making these sounds.

The only new noises around my household, as we age, is flatulence. We've come to accept it and it's almost comical. We'd have been shocked in the early days of our marriage some 36 years ago at such habits. 70 ish is our age and no odd verbal utterances, so far. Overall, the journey to 80 or even 90 is wild, so we should not be surprised at anything. I could laugh and cry at the same time. Ronni, you are doing great and thanks for sharing. Your blog helps us all get through this, which ultimately is what it all is about, just getting through it and with as much joy, enjoyment and fun as possible against the impending eventual, inevitable , demise.

I have always talked to myself and hum when I am in the flow. Of course, since I can't carry a tune, my humming is probably very annoying. Also moan and groan with effort which is worse as the poor old joints and bones continue to freeze up. So some is just who I am, some may be connected to my life long tinnitus and some may come from long stretches of living alone. Tis what it is.

I'm 75 and sing in a church choir. One of the singers in our choir does this. She doesn't doing it while singing, but often does it when we are not. At first I thought she was clearing her throat, but when it continued I realized it was something else. She doesn't seem aware she is doing it. I don't find it annoying. I decided it is just a tic that is part of who she is. What intrigues me is the fact that most folks report they aren't aware of it when doing it. In that respect it is like snoring. It took a while before I was convinced that I snore, because I never once have heard myself do it. If someone points out that I have started doing what you report, it will take less convincing to get me to believe it now that we've had this discussion. I see absolutely no harm in it.

I've talked to myself in my head since childhood. Only recently have I discovered that I enjoy hearing what I have to say out loud. I only do this when no one else is around and I speak softly if someone should wander close. I see no harm in it. I have a great sense of humor. I haven't graduated yet to a normal conversational tone, though I think hardly anyone would notice with all the bluetooth thingies that allow you to walk down the street and have an animated phone conversation with no phone in sight.

Marguerite H.

I'm a self-talker too. Some days I have some really interesting conversations with myself - and hardly any arguments.

I don't think I've heard my husband or myself make the sound you describe; however, I talk to myself when trying to learn or understand something new, often talk to the television (more and more these days when news is on) and talk to my cats, and they talk to me also, but through nuances of their limited cat sounds. I can relate to the groaning or grunting when getting up now and then, especially from a too-deep sofa.

Hallelujah! One--just one--old age thing that I don't have. Usually what I encounter on TGB is a mirror to my own aging. But not this time, and I feel quite smug about that. I do say, or scream, "fuck" quite often during any given day because so many things happen that seem to call for that particular word. And just thinking it does no good at all.

You know, I wish I had that problem. Mine is kind of the opposite - with the hypersensitivity in my airways and voicebox, it hurts to talk. When I do, my voice is often harsh and too-loud. People think I am angry. And singing or humming, well, forget it!

John, I was waiting for someone to mention the other kind of noises our bodies make. Trumpet sounds.

Orchestral melodies.

You made me laugh!

So Mister GPS and I are in a cycling group.

Mostly retired teachers, airline personnel, nurses, etc. We ride 45 k's a week on bike trails on and off the island of Montreal.

The trail leading to Oka Beach has a long, chaos dastardly hard hill. I am determined to cycle up that hill.

So to distract myself from the pain, I sing a Fats Domino song in my head and pedal to the beat.

"I'm walkin' yes indeed, I'm talkin' about you and me, I'm hopin' that you'll come back to me, mmmmmhmmmm."

Fats Domino motivates me to ride that hill.

A fellow rider asked me what I was singing. I said Fats Domino I'm Walkin'.

She said "who's Fats Domino?"

I told her Fats Domino played Montreal clubs back in the day. My bro and I remember lining up to see his show. Fantastic!

I also walk with my MP3 player and sing quietly.

Me no care who hears me.

These little noises are creative, empathetic communications from our imaginary friends. I think I have always done this when I'm with other people. They are noises of empathy or support: no words are needed. Aaaargh may mean That stupid idiot is at it again. By definition, our friends and relatives do not observe us when we are alone. Then our IFs step into acknowledge our feelings and thoughts. Mmm for example may mean, Nice one! or Good idea! Uh huh usually means Uh huh, and so forth. That's my theory and I'm sticking to it.

Oh god, yet another thing to look forward to in the correct "upbeat and positive" manner.

I have always liked the Swiss city of Basel near the source of the Rhine; the humanist Erasmus spent his last years there and is buried in the main church. I hope to get there
again some day, perhaps like this Australian traveler, who knows his own mind and has
my total respect:

For some reason the above post cut out the link to NY Times article on the 102 year old Australian scientist who left for Basel to voluntarily end his life, with a clear and sane mind, but according to his daughter, "no control of his body" (euphemism for double incontinence), blind and no quality of life remaining after an amazingly long and vigorous career. He deserves to exit on his own terms, and he is a role model for me.
Unfortunately, my Alzheimer's husband does not have this option since he is unaware of many things, including his own mental and physical decline.

Is there no way to edit a comment, or delete one and redo it?

Cassandra, you can edit your comment if you use the "preview" button to check it before publishing it. Make your corrections, then click "publish." There's no going back after publishing and although I don't know what link you're referring to about the Australian scientist, I personally don't allow links in any comments an remove those that appear.

My husband and I were in Highlands, NC for a long weekend with 4 other couples. While the men watched football, the women went into the little town to shop and eat lunch. I had never noticed before that one of the women made the mmm and the ahhhh sounds while she shopped. When we returned to the house and were preparing dinner, I heard her doing the same sounds. I asked one of the other women if she noticed and she said "Oh, she has been doing that for awhile now". She is 70.

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