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My mom came to live with me and my husband about two months ago. Since then, I've noticed that she's really sensitive to noises around the house, like pots and pans clanging, or dishwasher door closing. She's also very easily frightened by loud noises when we are in the car, or big bumps as we go over potholes, etc. Is this typical of early dementia, and what can I do about it? I'd like to be able to calm her and assure her that she's safe and doesn't have to constantly worry about these types of things.

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Changes in the brain can make sounds unbearable - ask anyone who gets migraines which are now categorized as neurological.

Ask her doctor about what is going on so if there is something that can be medically managed, he or she will look into it. For non-medical management, sound canceling earphones may help though you don't want to take away too much interaction with people while canceling out other sounds.

Not understanding what the sound means makes sense, too, so the suggestion that your mom be in the kitchen rather than another room when kitchen noise is unavoidable may help. Every noticed how the sound of someone else running a vacuum cleaner is annoying but when doing it yourself the sound is just - there?

There are so many ways to look at this. I'd start with the doctor but also try out the suggestions these smart community members have suggested. Please keep us posted on the situation. We'd love to hear how your mother is doing and your posts will help others.
Carol
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Get mom checked out by a qualified geriatric specialist and have a baseline cognitive evaluation test done. If there is something neurological going on, you want to catch it early and avoid surprises. Keep a journal about mom's behaviors so you can refer to it as change happens.

My mother was fixated on every little perceived noise. She couldn't hear me shouting into her ear, but supposedly heard all kinds of rattling, banging, and other racquet. I think it was just her brain misinterpreting other input as noise as part of her dementia. Noise that got her attention and was bothersome.

I stopped aggravating myself by explaining to her and just started giving her an answer she could live with. Even if I heard nothing.

And I got good at saying "sorry it's bothering you", even if I heard nothing.
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With in house noises I would always tell my mom I was going in kitchen to empty dishwasher, cook dinner, run vacuum. Noises bothered her if she was not prepared but she could fall asleep while I was running the vacuum.
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Sandwich gives such good advice! This may be an indication of brain changes that sometimes happen in older people; the brain processes sounds that used to be familiar as something else entirely. It may also be that the move has unmasked some previously well hidden deficits.

I always remember the day I was watching Jeopardy with my 90 year old grandma. She suddenly asked "why is there a bell ringing?" It seemed like she suddenly stopped integrating the bell into the game, which she'd been watching for years!
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Reminds me of when the fire alarm went off at my mother's nursing home. It scared all the residents. My Mom was terrified. It took a lot of soothing to calm everyone. Definitely go with the flow and acknowledge sounds that you may not here.
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I just think as we get older some things bother us more than they used to. Like getting off balance as we age, we all know that IF we fall, we could get hurt more easily than when we were younger.............
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Forewarning that an annoying sound is about to happen if possible as well as validating to the person that you understand that the noises truly are annoying, scary, etc. to them may help some. My daughter is hypersensitive to sudden unexpected sounds. She gets very fearful with even the anticipation of this such as knowing the dog may bark when the mail is delivered, seeing balloons is scary to her, fireworks, and thunder storms are all very anxiety provoking. My husband gives her a hard time for this even though I explain to him that this is very real and it is not something she can control. It is painful. So patience, avoidance, validation, sound masking, earphones, etc. (as recommended by others) are all good strategies. Some children who have sensory sensitivities such as this will make loud noises or sing or hum which many see as just being agitated but it also serves the purpose of blocking out sounds that are truly disturbing to them even if the sounds aren't noticed by anyone else (such as the sound of the furnace or someone walking down the hall or twigs of a tree hitting a window.) Patience and understanding...
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I just reread your question. If your mom can understand, explain to her that everyone's (nervous system) interprets or processes incoming sounds, sights, smells, touch, etc. differently and that she may be more sensitive than some people. This may help her be less anxious and it helps her know that you understand her. I hope this helps.
I am a retired occupational therapist who used my extensive knowledge of sensory processing and sensory integration techniques and strategies to help children with these types of issues.
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Would it help if she was in the kitchen with you while you were cooking? She could see and hear at the same time and integrate the sounds of your home. Perhaps she could also help you with tasks and feel part of her new living space.
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Freakedout, as a child I was also afraid of thunder storms until one day my Dad had me come to a window and he made a game out of the lightening and thunder. Like when there was a lightening flash, we slowly started to count 1001, 1002, 1003, etc and when we heard the thunder we stopped counting, like at 1004 and Dad said the storm was 4 miles away. Ever since then I was no longer afraid of thunder :)
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