How do you respond when your loved one with dementia says, “I want to go home” when in fact they are already home?
If you’ve ever tried to tell them that they are already home then chances are they’ve become upset, or anxious, and maybe even started to pack their bags to leave.
What can you do in these situations to avoid making things worse and hopefully even bring some peace to your loved one.
If you would like to watch a video on this topic, click here.
Hi, my name is Natali Edmonds, I’m a board certified geropsychologist and this is the Careblazers blog. Before we get started I want you to know that my Care Course opens for enrollment today. It’s the last time to join this year and the last time to join at this price. Join now so you can get some help getting through the holidays and the rest of your caregiving journey without the guilt and overwhelm you are currently feeling. Click the link here to join by November 14th to avoid the higher price the next time it’s offered.
Whenever someone with dementia says they want to go home (when they are in fact already home), it usually means they are wanting to go back to a home from their younger years. Typically this is a home they grew up in. They don’t recognize the home they are living in as their current home and you reminding them of it usually doesn’t help things. You trying to stop them from packing also dosn’t help.
I’m going to link to a video here I did about 3 years ago also talking about his situation, but today I want to give you some specific examples.
First, validate what they are saying (remember last weeks video on the 4 steps to communication?). It might sound something like “You want to go home.”
Second, ask some questions about their home such as...
This is great because it will give you some insight about what home they are talking about AND it will give you some insight into what you can do or say to help them feel more calm and eventually stop asking.
For example, if they tell you they have to get home because their husband is there and they need to make dinner, that’s good information to know. It tells you that you may be able to respond with “Oh, your husband Mike just called, he has to work late tonight. He was hoping we can hang out for a while. Here, I set up a puzzle for us to do together.”
If instead your loved one said "I have the most beautiful garden" then you might be able to respond with some questions about how they got their garden to grow such as what’s their favorite thing to grow. Then you can redirect to a conversation about fruits and vegetables you like and just might happen to have in your fridge.
You might also be able to respond with, “Okay, let’s get dressed before we go.” Then from there and during that activity you are talking about different subject, helping to redirect to something new.
Perhaps, you can say “I just made some tea, let’s have some of that before we go.”
And in some cases, you may need to say, “Okay let’s go. Then get in the car and go for a drive around town, maybe take a scenic route, stop for a coffee or icecream and go right back to your house.” That can often be enough to satisfy their need to “go home”
Again, be sure to watch my older video here on this topic where I also talk about how to make their current home more like the “home” they have in their mind.
In your mind you might be thinking that this doesn’t make any sense. I’m not letting them know they are already home. Truly, you don't need to do that. That puts more tension between you and your loved one and makes it more likely they will resist any attempt you make after that.
Ask yourself, what would be a reason your loved one would be able to understand about why they need to stay longer? It’s obviously not that they are already at home or that they dont’ live in the other house any more.
But based on their past, what house they think their going to, who is living at that house and what was important to them, think about what would resonate with them.
For example, a man who spent much of his earlier life fixing up things around the house might respond well to, “Okay, but first can you help me fix this shelf?” And then take their arm, smile, and walk over to where you have a shelf. You can then ask what he thinks about it, does it look level, have him hold something from the shelf while you dust that area off. Anything that makes it seem like he’s helping you with the shelf.
As another example, a mom who is worried about being at home in time for her kids to get off the bus might respond to something like, Sally is having dinner at her friends house tonight, I was think we would make lasagna, can you help me make some lasagna, yours always tastes so good.
This is why it’s important to get to know a little about what it is they are trying to get back home to. Because that way you can use that information as you develop your response.
Remember, we are always trying to respond to difficult behaviors from their point of view, not from ours. It doesn’t have to make sense to us. Usually, whenever we try to respond in a way that makes sense to us, it backfires.
I’m sure some of you amazing Careblazers have some creative ways you’ve handed this situation in the past. Leave those example below in the comments, I know they will help so many other Careblazer.
Thanks again for being here. Don’t forget to download your free Careblazer Survival Guide linked here and I hope to see some of you inside the Care Course. This is the last time to join for the new year and it’s the last time to join at this price. Don’t miss out.