As an Alzheimer or dementia caregiver, there really is nothing more heartbreaking to hear than your loved one wants to “go home”. Whether they are living at your house or in a nursing home, that plea just rips at all the feelings. Tips and ideas for dealing with wanting to go home!
Where Is Home?
When an Alzhemier or dementia person wants to “go home”, where is that place? They may be in their actual home, at your house or even in a care facility when they say this.
As they lose more and more of their memories of the recent past, their childhood seems more real than today. Home for some late stage dementia patients may be their childhood home where they felt safe and cared for.
Of course we can't recreate that home, but maybe try to find some pictures of that time and reminisce with them about “home”.
Where They Were Happiest
Home for some people is where they had their happiest times. Could be when their kids were younger, or when they lived somewhere unique or when they felt most stable and comfortable.
It is really helpful to get clues about when that time may be so you can help to recreate that feeling of comfort (more about this later!)
Home To God
Some caregivers have mentioned that the person may want to go home to God. If they have a strong religious belief, going to heaven and being reunited with loved ones who have passed on may seem to be a good thing.
For many older patients, their whole support network of siblings, parents and lifelong friends may have vanished and without memory of where they went, it could be super confusing that “no one they know” are still around.
Where They Are “Set” In Time
My Mother In Law seems pretty set in time about 8 years ago when we lived in Colorado. She talks about going downstairs to her room, which is what the setup was there.
It takes a LOT of effort on all our parts to not continually remind her that we live in Florida now! You would think after a while we would get over it, but it is funny how much you want to remind them of how the world really is!
Your loved one might pass through phases of their past as to what “Home” is for them.
Their Last Home
When Mom is having good days, she really does want to “go home” to her condo that she still owns. Our daughter traded her and lives there now, but Mom threatens to run away and go back to living by herself.
I really can't blame her. Back at her home, she had autonomy and no one to boss her around about eating. She could drink whatever she wanted and not have someone picking up all her garbage in her room. She could drive and do anything she wanted with no bossy people telling her what to do day and night.
OF COURSE, she can't go back home. She didn't eat, take medicine or care for her pets, but that wanting freedom is natural for a grown woman to crave!
Where Is Home Now?
If you are caring for your loved one in your home and busting your butt to make sure they are safe and healthy, it can feel like a real slap in the face when they don't want to live with you.
Or maybe they are “stuck” in a memory care home or senior living complex and want to come home to be with you. The guilt you feel getting those pleading words is almost unbearable.
But what we need to remember is that “home” to people with dementia is not the same thing as home is to us. Home to us is where we physically live now, home to them is a place in their mind where they were happy and secure.
You don't need to feel guilty that you are depriving them of home happiness because there is no physical home that they are wanting to run away to. Rather they want to have that feeling of home again.
How To Make It More Home-y
Here are some tips and ideas for how to make wherever they live more “home-y” to them!
Photos of loved ones. If having pictures of their family and friends around makes them happy, put up as many as you can. Being surrounded by this kind of support is amazing. That said, if seeing a bunch of “strangers” staring at them agitates your person with dementia, then remove all the pictures of people.
Pictures of places. My Mother In Law grew up in Minnesota so she loves pictures of snow, lakes and woods. Even though we live in Florida now, we have a much more “country” vibe in her room to help her feel like she belongs.
Warm blankets. Many Alzheimers and dementia people are cold. Having lots of warm blankets around to snuggle up in is an easy way to make comfort. Bonus, with lots of blankets, if they make a mess you can just swap them out and toss them in the washer for a quick clean.
Soft music. Sometimes it is hard not to have things running through your mind when sitting in complete silence. Playing some soft music in the background could help! Try all different eras, some may want jazz, some 80s rock and some might want to go all the way back to the big bands they listened to as kids.
Good smells. Realtors bake cookies before open houses because the smell of baked goods is “homey”. Make sure that you have great smells in your loved ones rooms. Some might like floral, some spicy and some, like my Mom might like more deep woodsy smells. You can use essential oils, wall air fresheners or scented candles! (I love these ones from Big Whiff candles for Mom!)
What To Do If They Insist?
Okay, you have done everything you can to make them comfortable, but they still want to go home. What can you do?
Ask Them About Home
It can seem really scary to delve into their delusions with them! What if you talk about home and it gets worse?
Oftentimes your loved one is talking about going home because they are scared or confused. Talking about home and where they think that is can be super comforting and grounding.
As with all things dementia, sometimes you can distract them from what they are obsessing about for the next 15 minutes!
If you can get them to think about new curtains for their room or what their next remodel project or their pet dog, you can sometimes distract them from wanting to go home just long enough to make them forget. (that short term memory, forgetful thing works in our favor sometimes too!)
Lie To Them
Okay, this one is always controversial! Since your family member is not living in reality because of memory loss, sometimes it is okay to lie. I KNOW, it makes us feel bad, but if it helps our loved ones feel better than it has to be an option.
You can say that their home is being remodeled, or you are waiting to get the electricity fixed or that you are taking them home tomorrow. Functionally all you need to do is get through this bout of questioning and then move on.
Additional Resource :: Dealing With Lying To Your Dementia or Alzheimers Loved One
Take Them “Home”
Last but not least, if they insist on going home, take them for a car ride. Use distraction and lying or anything else you need to do to take their mind off of home, and then go home.
We have passed the early stages now and mom does feel safe at our house, but I do know that when Mom sees our subdivision she feels a little better about things and her desire to go home settles down a little bit!