How to respond when someone with dementia begs to go home

Older couple

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It was heartbreaking. The moment he saw his wife, John would begin pleading with her to take him home. He had dementia and was living in a memory care facility. His wife visited him every single day. Listening to his repeated pleas to go home left her feeling guilt-ridden and exhausted.

Her usual reaction was to try and persuade him that he was home. She would explain that he needed to live there and point out how lovely it was, what good care he got, and that they were so fortunate she was able to be with him every day.

John would become more agitated and she would head home in tears. One afternoon, one of her husband’s caregivers noticed that she was upset and asked her what was wrong. When she poured out her concerns, the caregiver told her that asking to go home was a common refrain from many of their residents with dementia. She also said it often happens even when the person is still living at home. John’s wife was relieved because she thought the situation was all her fault.

Change can be extremely upsetting for someone with dementia, even something that seems minor, such as a change in routine. The world is a confusing place to someone with dementia. Add something different to the mix and it’s likely to make the person feel even more anxious. Moving into a new and strange environment can be especially confusing. Even after people seem to have settled in, many will continue to ask to go home.

As Alzheimer’s (and other causes of dementia) progresses, the ability to reason diminishes. Instead, you need to learn how to communicate on his/her terms. Forget about the facts and focus on feelings. When someone with dementia repeatedly asks to be taken home it’s important to understand the feeling behind the request.

Most of the time, they’re not really talking about the home they just left, but the home they grew up in. Particularly in the later stages of dementia, home is not necessarily a place, but a feeling of security — like they may have felt as a child.

Repeatedly asking to go home is a sign that the person feels unsafe or threatened, so it’s important to pay close attention. A recent move is not always the reason people with dementia want to go home. Something else might be causing them stress or they might need to be more physically active or they may simply be bored. Maybe he/she isn’t feeling well or is in pain. There may be a problem involving a caregiver or another resident. Someone with dementia may not be able to say what is really going on — only that he/she wants to be somewhere that feels safe and secure — to be “home.”

The Alzheimer’s Association offers these helpful tips:

  • Respond to emotions. Tell the person you know he/she feels scared or lonely.
  • Redirect. Go for a walk or a drive. When you return, it’s possible the person will recognize where they now live and refer to it as “being home.” Do an activity you know the person enjoys. Play some favorite music. Offer a favorite food.
  • Reset. Look at the person’s childhood photos together. Reminiscing can trigger pleasant memories and make the person feel safer. Giving hugs, saying you’ll take care of them, you love them and you can help them often go a long way in making people feel more peaceful and at ease.

If you’d like more tips on how to care for someone with dementia, the Alzheimer’s Association has a 24/7 Helpline: 1.800.272.3900.

John’s wife decided to stop trying to set her husband straight. Instead, the moment he asked her to take him home she would give him a big hug and tell him how happy she was to see him. If he continued to ask, she would try to distract him by getting him to tell her stories about being home. He loved telling the stories. Some she had heard many times before and some were revelations! Interestingly, some stories were made up stories, but she never corrected him or told him it couldn’t be true. It was obvious that he believed all of his stories and loved telling them and she realized that seeing him happy and content was all that mattered.

Before long, John stopped begging to go home and his wife stopped dreading her daily visits. Caring for someone with dementia is hard, hard work — whether he/she is living in a facility or living at home — whether you are providing all the care, have help from family and friends or use the services of an agency such as Advantage Home Care.

Do you care for someone with dementia who frequently asks to go home? If you have some strategies that have worked for you, please let us know so we can share them with other caregivers. Thank you!

About Advantage Home Care

Advantage Home Care provides a wide variety of in-home senior services that includes dementia care. If you would like to learn more about our caregivers and the services we offer, please visit our websitesend us an email or give us a call at 1-888-846-1410 or 207-699-2570.

Our blog is written by Diane Atwood, who also writes the blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood. Let us know if there is a particular topic you’d like us to cover.

Categories: Alzheimer's/Dementia and Blog.

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