Why Do Old People Chew For No Reason?

Safe Smart Seniors
6 min readJun 20, 2024

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Older adults might chew seemingly for no reason due to several factors like dental issues, dry mouth, cognitive decline, and medication side effects.

Understanding these reasons can help you support and address this behavior more effectively.

There are more ways to manage and understand this behavior, keep learning to find out.

Quick Takeaways:

  • Cognitive decline, such as dementia, can lead to involuntary chewing due to brain signaling issues.
  • Dental issues, like ill-fitting dentures or missing teeth, can cause seniors to chew aimlessly.
  • Dry mouth from aging or medications can make seniors chew more to stimulate saliva production.
  • Past smoking habits may result in chewing as a psychological substitute in former smokers.
  • Certain medications may cause involuntary movements, including chewing, as a side effect.

Dental Issues

Many older adults chew for no apparent reason due to dental issues like ill-fitting dentures or missing teeth. This can be a common occurrence, and it’s important to understand why it happens.

When dentures don’t fit properly or when teeth are missing, discomfort or pain can lead seniors to engage in repetitive chewing motions to alleviate the irritation. This behavior isn’t limited to just a few individuals; it can affect many older adults, including those who are dementia patients.

Involuntary chewing can sometimes be a sign of underlying oral health issues that need immediate attention. Regular dental check-ups are vital for identifying and addressing any problems that may contribute to aimless chewing.

Ensuring that dentures fit correctly and replacing any missing teeth can greatly reduce the occurrence of this behavior.

Proper dental care is crucial for maintaining the overall well-being of older adults. By addressing discomfort and ensuring that all dental apparatuses are correctly fitted, you can help mitigate the reasons behind why seniors might chew for no apparent reason.

So, always remember to prioritize dental health as an important component of elderly care.

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Dry Mouth

Dry mouth, often exacerbated by medications and age-related changes, can lead to increased chewing as a way to stimulate saliva production. As you age, your body naturally produces less saliva, and many medications taken by older adults can further reduce saliva flow. This dryness can feel uncomfortable, leading you to chew more frequently, even when you don’t have food.

Chewing can be an unconscious attempt to alleviate the dryness and discomfort in your mouth. By chewing, you stimulate the salivary glands, encouraging them to produce more saliva. This might provide temporary relief, but it doesn’t address the root cause of the problem.

To manage dry mouth effectively, stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Chewing sugar-free gum or using saliva-stimulating products can also help. These methods can reduce your need to chew without food.

It’s important to consult with a healthcare provider or dentist. They can help identify the underlying causes of your dry mouth and recommend appropriate treatments. Addressing dry mouth not only improves comfort but can also reduce unnecessary chewing, enhancing your overall well-being.

Cognitive Decline

As cognitive decline progresses, you might notice older adults chewing involuntarily due to changes in brain signaling pathways. These changes often stem from conditions like dementia, which can disrupt the brain’s ability to regulate motor functions, including chewing. When the brain’s signaling pathways are compromised, it may result in seemingly purposeless chewing actions that the individual can’t control.

Dementia and other neurological disorders can severely impact motor coordination. This lack of control over chewing movements is a direct consequence of how these conditions affect the brain. As a result, older adults might chew even when there’s no food in their mouth, leading to confusion or concern for those around them.

Communication difficulties also play a role. Seniors experiencing cognitive decline may struggle to articulate why they’re chewing, leaving caregivers puzzled about the behavior. This involuntary action isn’t just a random habit — it’s a manifestation of deeper neurological changes.

Understanding that involuntary chewing can be linked to cognitive decline helps in managing expectations and responses. By recognizing this behavior as part of a broader cognitive issue, you can approach the situation with more empathy and seek appropriate medical advice to support the individual’s overall health.

Past Smoking Habits

If you notice older adults chewing for no apparent reason, their past smoking habits might be to blame. Many older individuals who used to smoke may have developed a habit of repetitive mouth movements from their years of smoking. Even if they’ve quit, this behavior can linger as a subconscious action, creating the appearance of chewing air.

Former smokers often find themselves unconsciously mimicking the motions they used to make while holding a cigarette between their lips. This can result in constant, purposeless chewing that might seem odd to onlookers but makes perfect sense when you consider their history with tobacco. The act of smoking involves repetitive mouth and jaw movements, which can become deeply ingrained as a habitual action over time.

In some cases, this chewing behavior acts as a psychological substitute for smoking. It provides a form of comfort or familiarity, helping them cope with the absence of cigarettes. This lingering habit highlights the lasting impact that smoking can have on physical behaviors, even long after someone has quit.

Understanding this connection can help you better empathize with and support older adults exhibiting this behavior.

Medication Side Effects

Another common reason for older adults to chew for no apparent reason is the side effects of certain medications. Many older individuals are on long-term medication regimens, and some drugs, especially antipsychotics, can cause involuntary movements. One significant side effect is tardive dyskinesia, a condition characterized by repetitive, involuntary movements such as chewing.

You might notice that someone on these medications starts to exhibit chewing behaviors without any clear reason. It’s not just a habit; it’s a direct result of drug-induced movement disorders. This can be distressing for both the individual and their caregivers, but it’s important to understand that it’s a side effect of the medication they’re taking.

Healthcare providers play an important role in monitoring these side effects. They can adjust medications to minimize unwanted movements like involuntary chewing.

If you’re a caregiver, staying informed about the potential side effects of medications can help you manage and address these behaviors effectively.

Neurological Conditions

Neurological conditions, like dementia, often lead to involuntary chewing motions in elderly individuals. When the brain’s control over facial muscles gets damaged, it can result in uncontrolled chewing behavior. This is because neurological disorders disrupt the normal signals that regulate chewing and swallowing.

For example, conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or stroke can contribute to this phenomenon. In Parkinson’s, the disease affects motor control, leading to repetitive and involuntary movements, including chewing. Similarly, a stroke can damage parts of the brain that control muscle movements, causing the elderly to chew without a specific reason.

If you notice an elderly person chewing involuntarily, it’s essential to seek medical evaluation. Addressing these neurological issues early on can help manage the symptoms better. Doctors can provide treatments or therapies that may reduce the frequency or severity of these involuntary motions.

Understanding that involuntary chewing can be a symptom of underlying neurological conditions underscores the importance of proper medical care and attention. Recognizing the connection between brain health and muscle control can help you provide better support and care for older adults dealing with these challenges.

Habit and Routine

While neurological conditions can lead to involuntary chewing, sometimes this behavior develops simply out of habit and routine. Over time, repetitive actions like chewing can become ingrained in an older person’s daily life. This isn’t always a conscious decision; the act of chewing may provide comfort or a sense of familiarity, even when there’s no food present.

You might notice an elderly person chewing for no apparent reason, and this could be due to muscle memory or past habits. For instance, if someone used to chew gum or smoke, their brain and muscles might continue the motion out of habit. Chewing can also be a calming mechanism, similar to how others might fidget or tap their feet.

Additionally, many seniors chew to satisfy a need for oral stimulation. This can help them cope with feelings of boredom or anxiety. It’s a simple, repetitive action that can provide a small amount of comfort in their daily routine.

Understanding these habits can help you approach the situation with empathy and find ways to support their need for routine and comfort without unnecessary concern.

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Safe Smart Seniors

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