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How to Respond When Your Aging Parent with Dementia Says, “I Want to Go Home”

One of the most heartbreaking things you can hear from your aging parent with dementia is: “I want to go home.” While it’s not unusual to hear this from people who are living in a memory care community, it is distressing for those who love them. If you’re a caregiver whose loved one lives with them, you may hear this phrase as well.

“When your loved one has dementia, explaining that they’re already home or they can’t go ‘back home’ doesn’t work,” says Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger Community, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA. “Logic doesn’t work, so we as caregivers or adult children need to look at the situation from a different perspective in order to help comfort and calm our parent.”

Oftentimes, when a parent is saying “I want to go home,” they aren’t actually meaning that they want to go home. “It’s more of a request for comfort,” says Andrea. “Their current environment isn’t familiar to them for some reason, or they’re hurting in some way or they’re simply afraid. In this case, ‘home’ is shorthand for a place that is familiar and comfortable, so we as caregivers should focus on reassuring our loved ones and figuring out what is really bothering them.”

Why An Adult Wants to “Go Home”

Dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease cause the individual to lose their ability to communicate or find the right words to get their point across. They may be wanting to “go home” because they’re feeling like they’re missing something or are lonely or a variety of other problems. Here are some things your aging parent may be trying to say:

  • They’re in pain. If your loved one is hurting, it’s natural for them to want to go “home” where they feel safe and comfortable.
  • They’re lonely or sad. Dementia is a disease that slowly causes the individual to become disconnected and isolated from others. Their world slowly becomes smaller, and they forget faces and names.
  • They’re confused. It is possible that your loved one simply doesn’t know where ‘home’ is because they don’t remember. They may think they’re decades younger than they are (or have even reverted to childhood) and that ‘home’ is the place where they lived many years ago.
  • They have a particular need that isn’t being met. If your aging parent is tired, thirsty, hungry or needs to use the bathroom, they may want to ‘go home.’ Home is a comfortable environment where they know where everything is and what is expected.
  • They’re bored. Even as your loved one’s abilities go away, they still have the need for meaningful, stimulating and interesting days. If they don’t have enough to do, they may want to go “home” where they know they “belong.”

Helping Your Adult Parent Feel Safe and Comfortable

Don’t argue about them already being at “home.”
As we mentioned previously, your parent isn’t really asking to “go home” – they’re seeking something that may or may not actually exist, like a homelike feel. Instead of arguing that they are home (which will only serve to agitate and confuse them further), try instead to understand and acknowledge their feelings behind wanting to go home. Ask your parent where home is – they may describe the place they lived previously or their childhood home, or even an idyllic place like a vacation destination. Encourage them to talk about why they were happy and comfortable there, which may help you find ideas on how to help your parent feel better.

Reassure and comfort your parent.
Let your parent know that he or she is safe and, in a place, where people care. Reassure them verbally and also with comforting touches, if appropriate. By helping your mom or dad feel safe and loved, they will know they’re cared for, which can help ease their anxiety.

Redirect the conversation and/or their attention.
Redirection is an incredibly useful tool for whenever your parent is exhibiting concerning behaviors. Here are some examples of how to gently redirect your parent’s attention and help them stay calm and content.

  • Ask for their help with a task they can do and enjoy, like dusting, folding towels or organizing silverware. Giving Mom or Dad a job can help get their thoughts on something else.
  • Turn on some of their favorite music and start a dance party with them or ask them to sing along to the music.
  • Agree with your parent and tell them that you will go “home” later, but first you have to do x/y/z and can they help you? By agreeing with them, you acknowledge and soothe their feelings, and this allows you to stall for time and find ways to redirect their attention. It’s possible that your mom or dad will fairly quickly forget they were asking about going home.
  • Have a photograph album on hand that Mom or Dad can look through. Ask questions about the pictures and allow them to reminisce about the past. You can start by making comments about memories or moments you remember.

Find out whether Mom or Dad is lonely or unhappy.
Loneliness or happiness can manifest as a desire to ‘go home.’ Ask your parent if they’re unhappy, and if they are, see if you can find out why. They may not be able to tell you, so it may be a bit of a trial and error to find ways to help them feel more comfortable and happier. You may want to see if there are opportunities for him or her to enjoy the company of other people, or have more engaging activities to do.

Pay attention to when they’re asking to go home.
It’s possible that certain times of day may be spurring your parent’s anxiety. Is there a common denominator about when and where this happens? Is it possibly due to sundowning? Is it around mealtime? Does it happen when they’re in a crowd? There are many different triggers for your loved one’s behavior and finding out if something is causing it can be a big step towards soothing them.

For more information about dementia caregiving, or to learn more about our community, mission and values, please contact us at 925-272-0261.

Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care

The Reutlinger Community’s mission is to provide high quality health care and social support services in a life-enhancing and stimulating environment with a commitment to Jewish values.

Offering Assisted Living, Enhanced Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s newly renovated, 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any senior’s needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.

Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.

At The Reutlinger Community, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.

For more information or to schedule a personal tour, contact us today.

Author: sageage