When A Parent "Just Wants To Go Home"

Posted by Ciara Moosman on Oct 14, 2014

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"I want to go home."

Nearly any person caring for an elder with dementia has heard this heartbreaking plea, even if the elder is home. It's fairly well accepted by dementia experts that the "home" most elders want to return to is their childhood home, because in later stages of Alzheimer's that is where, in their minds, "home" is.

The same is true when you hear an aged woman with dementia calling over and over, "Mama! Mama!" This woman is a young child in her brain, and she's calling for her young mother. Not every aging person who enters a nursing home or assisted living has dementia. And not every case of dementia is the same.

A reader on the agingcare.com forum wrote: "My father with Alzheimer's has been in a nursing home for nearly 3 months, but he thinks it is temporary and that he will be moving out and back in with family. How do I tell him the truth?" As mentioned above, while he seems to be saying he wants to go back and live with the family, if his Alzheimer's is in one of the later stages, he likely, even if they moved him back, wouldn't feel as though he were home. It's quite probable he'd be agitated by one more move and would still not be "home." But that doesn't make the heartbreaking routine any easier. Caregivers and staff can say repeatedly and gently, "This is your home."

That's okay, but it likely won't help a whole lot. If the person is upset by hearing that, drop it. Arguing will only make the situation worse. This is when caregivers need to take a deep breath and accept that they will continually hear this plea.

Except it. Absorb it. And plan ahead.

Then, start the "distraction and redirection" routine. What this means is that once the plea begins, you perhaps nod your head as a sort of agreement and then gently guide your elder - mentally or physically - toward another subject.

If he/she is using a walker or wheelchair, start moving them toward a window or some object of interest. Guide the elder towards a social scene and engage in conversation about activities offered here. The elder's mind is quickly distracted and the talk can then be redirected. Eventually, the talk may even be turned to appropriate memories. How long will this distraction last? Maybe a minute, maybe an hour. It may not work at all. But it's a start. If the first bit of distraction doesn't work, then try something else. A photo album, perhaps with some talk about their children.

A tip, here, for people who still have their elder at home, but the elder still asks to "go home." Understand what the person wants and then try the same distraction or relearning technique. Some people go as far as taking the person in the car and driving around the block, then re-entering the house. This can work for awhile, but not likely that long. No matter what you do, you will hear it again: "I want to go home." The point here is that no matter what you do or say, likely you will continue to hear the plea to "go home."



Your heart will continue to break. But understanding that the home the person wants likely no longer exists can help the caregiver's "guilt factor" a great deal. Even if you were to pack him up and take him to his last home, he would likely not be satisfied because it's not really the home he means. He doesn't want the home he left three months ago, he wants to go to the home from 60 years ago.

So arm yourself with understanding and acceptance.

This is how it's going to be and you can't fix it. Distraction and redirection can sometimes help for awhile, but the plea will continue. "I want to go home." Heartbreaking but common. Sometimes, we just have to deal with it.

wants to go home

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