Dementia; When They Want to Go HomeFeb 20, 2022
Your loved one with dementia lives in an assisted living community...
Or maybe they live with you.
They could even live in the home where you were raised.
They've been there a few days, months, or even years…
Then it happens.
They utter the words that strike fear into the heart of every family caregiver…
“I want to go home”.
Regardless of where they are, these words can be extremely upsetting.
So, what should you do?
First, you PAUSE.
It’s best not to say "You are home"...
Or, explain that assisted living is their new home...
Or, that they moved in with you 7 months ago.
Using logic to explain the situation simply won't work.
Because dementia affects their ability to process complex information...
And makes it impossible to see things from another person's perspective.
So, that kind of response will only be upsetting and confusing.
Instead, we encourage you to first...
Acknowledge their feelings by being with their emotion.
Respond with a 3-5 word sentence that validates you heard them. One of these will work:
- “You want to go home."
- “Tell me about home."
- "Home sounds nice."
Then stop talking and give them plenty of time to respond.
Many times, just being validated and able to talk is all they need.
You can also use something they say to redirect their attention.
Another example of redirecting that can work in later stages...
“Ok, let’s get your jacket first.”
Then, while you’re walking together to get the jacket, stop to look at a picture.
Shifting their attention can help them forget they were asking about going home.
And, if all else fails…
You can agree to take them home and then go for a short car ride.
Once you’re on the road, pull in somewhere for ice cream or stop by the grocery store.
The detour may be enough to distract, redirect, and head back.
Something else to consider...
It could also be that they may not actually want to go home.
They could be trying to communicate another need to you.
So, put on your detective hat and think…
Could they be tired, thirsty, or need to use the bathroom?
If so, they may want to “go home”.
Are they lonely?
If they don’t have people around them who can create emotional connections with them and help them feel like they belong, they may want to "go home.”
Are they time traveling?
It’s not uncommon for people living with dementia to think they’re much younger than they are…sometimes decades younger; so people and places become painfully unfamiliar.
When this happens “go home” is a request for people and/or places from the past.
Whew! We know that's a lot to consider, but we promise it's worth it.
Responding with emotion (not logic) might feel counterintuitive and uncomfortable...
But your thoughtful response will absolutely help them feel better.
As the saying goes...
"Home is where the heart is."
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