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How to answer, I want to go home

When a Senior Says, “Can I Go Home Now?”

What if home did not feel like home? Or if no matter where you were, the warm, safe feeling of home remained elusive? That can happen to people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Answering the question, “Can I go home now?” is much more complicated than what is real and logical. It is a potential emotional minefield for both the questioner and the questioned. It helps to understand what is going on and be prepared with some strategies.

I Want to Go Home” – What Do I Say?

If you face a request from your parent to go home, remember the primary goal in a conversation with a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia is to comfort and soothe. Sometimes the person is already home. Sometimes not—but returning to a place they once lived is not possible. Often the person is not even referring to or remembering a specific place but simply longing for a feeling of being home. A distant memory of what it felt like to be okay and belong.

Logic will never work. Disagreement or contradiction won’t either. Your parent will sense your frustration or irritation. Although ‘correct’, it will only serve to escalate the emotional content of the conversation. Below are some tips that may help you feel prepared next time this happens.

Provide reassurance and comfort. This may be exactly what your parent seeks when they say the words, “I want to go home.” Being seen, heard, and understood are basic needs that people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias often do not feel are being met because they do not understand so much that is happening. If fear and anxiety are at the root of their longing for “home” – which could be where they are at that moment—a loving, calm response will show them you understand how they are feeling. Sometimes holding their hand or offering a hug goes a long way.

Remind them they are safe. Feeling uneasy in a place they do not recognize is common. That unfamiliar feeling happens no matter where they are, even if they’ve been there for decades. But the idea of “home” means familiar and familiar means safe. So try responding to their desire to be home by repeating that they are safe, cared for, and loved. Using soothing touch—stroking an arm or placing a warm hand on a shoulder—can reinforce your words.

Offer a diversion. If loneliness or disorientation are at the root of their question about going home, focusing their attention on something else can help. Read a favorite poem or story aloud or suggest a pot of tea and a plate of cookies on the terrace. You can point out photographs and comment in a way that does not expect a response, such as, “You told me the story about when your sister Meredith turned sixteen. What a darling photo!”

Validate their feelings. For example, asking them to tell you about their home will evoke memories. You are showing an interest in the subject of “home,” and whether they tell you about where you are sitting now, the home they recently left, or a home they lived in 60 years ago, it does not matter. Start them off by asking, “What is your favorite room in your home?” or saying, “Your home must be very special; can you tell me more?” The conversation will likely offer tangential topics that you can divert to, thus leaving the topic gently and with a feeling of affirmation.

What if It Doesn’t Work?

Your best attempts may fall short. If nothing you do helps your parent drop the idea of going home, remember that you can’t go wrong if you keep the tone warm and soothing, ask easy questions, show a genuine interest, and avoid trying to correct them.

Their continued calm often depends on feeling affirmed. If you have not been able to reassure or redirect, try agreeing with them in a way that makes sense. You can do that by asking, saying, or doing things peripheral to “going home.”

“Do you think you’ll need a jacket?” Putting on a jacket, getting “ready to go,” and making decisions about the trip will take some time while they will feel calm and purposeful. The objective of all the preparation may be forgotten or overridden by something else.

Let’s stop for ice cream on the way.” This meets the criteria of validating and affirming their goal while offering something you can really do in the meantime, and that will distract, possibly for the rest of the day, from the idea of going home. Feeling special, having a treat, being with you—these things will help them know they are cared for and safe.

“What should we pick up on the way?” Offer to make a list of what you’ll need and get their suggestions. By the time you have a long list, you can get in the car and make the first stop, for milk, say, or a new tea towel. This will feel familiar—doing a home-focused errand—and comforting. When you are done with that errand, you may well be able to return to their residence without their resistance.

Belonging

There is a place where your loved one belongs. Whether in a memory care facility, at home with you, or somewhere else, there are people to care for and soothe them. When you have a conversation with your loved one, you may not feel you are helping, but you are. Reach out to a senior care placement professional at Oasis today if you want advice or guidance about how to speak with, comfort, and provide care for a parent with Alzheimer’s. Call 475.619.4123 or 914.356.1901 or use our online form.

Oasis Senior Advisors

Fairfield-Westchester

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Paul and Susan Doyle

Certified Senior Advisor®

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475-619-4123