3 Ways to Respond When Someone with Alzheimer’s Says I Want to Go Home

alzheimer's i want to go home

When someone with Alzheimer’s says I want to go home

Hearing seniors say “I want to go home” over and over again is something Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers often deal with. It’s especially frustrating to hear when they’re already home.

The big question is how to respond in a way that calms them down and helps them let go of the idea. First, it helps to understand why they’re saying this and what they really meanNext, do your best to not take it personally so you can stay calm too.

 

3 ways to respond to “I want to go home”

We’ve got 3 suggested ways to respond when you hear “I want to go home.” They help calm the situation and avoid big fights or tears.

These suggestions will put you on the right track, but be prepared to get creative. Not everything you try will work the first time. And even if something works once, it might not work every time. Don’t get discouraged! This gets easier with practice.




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1. Reassure and comfort

Approach your older adult with a calm, soothing, and relaxed manner. They’ll pick up on your body language and tone of voice and will subconsciously start to match you. If you’re calm, they’ll get calmer too.

Sometimes saying “I want to go home” is how your senior tells you they’re tense, anxious, or scared and need extra comfort. If they like hugs, this is a good time for a big one. Others may prefer gentle touching or stroking on their arm or shoulder or simply having you sit with them.

Another way of giving extra comfort and reassurance is to give them a soft blanket or stuffed animal to cuddle.

 

2. Avoid reasoning and explanations

Don’t try to explain that they’re in their own home, assisted living is now their home, or they voluntarily moved in with you 3 years ago.

Trying to use reason and logic with someone who has a brain disease will only make them more insistent, agitated, and distressed. They won’t be able to process that information and will only sense that you’re preventing them from doing something they feel strongly about.

 

3. Agree, then redirect and distract

This is a challenging technique, so don’t beat yourself up if the first few attempts don’t work perfectly. Being able to redirect and distract is a skill that improves with practice.

First, agree
Agree by saying something like “Ok, we’ll go soon.” or “That’s a good idea. We’ll go as soon as I clean up these dishes.”

Then, redirect and distract
After agreeing, subtly redirect their attention. This redirection should lead into pleasant and distracting activities that take their minds away from wanting to go home.

For example, you could gently take their elbow while saying “Ok, we’ll go soon” and walk down the hall together to a big window or to the kitchen. Point out some of the beautiful birds and flowers outside or offer a snack or drink they’ll like. Later, casually shift to another activity that’s part of their daily routine.

Another example is saying “Ok, let’s get your sweater so you won’t be cold when we go outside.” Then, while you’re both walking and chatting about something pleasant, stop for a cup of tea or get involved in an activity they enjoy.

Or, ask them to tell you about their home. After a while, guide the conversation to a neutral topic. Asking about their home validates their feelings, encourages them to share positive memories, and distracts them from the original goal of going home.

Open questions that encourage them to share their thoughts work well. For example:

  • Your home sounds lovely, tell me more about it.
  • What’s the first thing you’re going to do when you get home?

 

If nothing is working…

Sometimes, your older adult will be stubborn and refuse to let go of the idea of going home no matter how much you try to soothe or redirect.

If that happens, you might want to take them on a brief car ride. Experiment with how far and how long you need to drive before you can go back to where they live without protest. Or, suggest a stop at the ice cream parlor for a nice (distracting) treat!

Even if it’s not possible to actually take them out or get into the car, the actions of getting ready to leave can be soothing because it shows that you believe them and are helping to achieve their goal. Meanwhile, the activities of getting ready give you more chances to redirect to something else.




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Bottom line

“I want to go home” is usually a request for comfort rather than asking to go somewhere. When responding, the goal is to reduce your older adult’s anxiety and fear so they can let go of the idea.

This terrible disease forces seniors to live in their brain’s version of reality. The best thing you can do is step into that reality, focus on comfort and reassurance, and respond to the emotions behind their request.

 

Next Step  Understand why seniors with Alzheimer’s say “I want to go home”

 

Recommended for you:
4 Ways to Respond When Someone with Alzheimer’s Keeps Repeating Questions
The ONE Alzheimer’s Care Tip That Will Change Your Life
When Someone with Alzheimer’s Says I Want to Go Home

 

By DailyCaring Editorial Team
Image: More than Coping


22 Comments

  • Reply February 19, 2017

    That's love

    My mom call home,when she was a litter girl,her mom house,she want to no who live in the house,

    • Reply February 21, 2017

      DailyCaring

      I hope she feels better once she knows 💔

  • Reply January 25, 2017

    Anonymous

    i truely hope to become as good as you , my lady repeats and repeats. You have helped me to find a direction to work in .

    • Reply January 25, 2017

      DailyCaring

      I’m so glad this article is helpful. I hope some of our suggestions work.

  • Reply January 20, 2017

    My Grandma Rose Alzheimer's Book

    I used to tell my mom that as soon as she made her flight arrangements that I’d be glad to take her to the airport. Then I’d show her her favorite YouTube video, Breakfast at Ginger’s, and she’d forget about it.

    • Reply January 20, 2017

      DailyCaring

      Fantastic examples of caring responses! Thank you for sharing <3

  • Reply November 24, 2016

    Diana

    My mother was moved from her home of 30 years in Orlando. She says my cousin told her it will be a 2 week visit to her hometown (her hometown has inmensily change which is something she dislikes because she wishes to drive ) in Puerto Rico. She insists on going back to Orlando. She knows where she is – a house rented for her so she knows her home is back in Orlando. She has come up with many reasons why she needs to go back to her home. Like she wants to take out the lady renting it with a buying option because she no longer wants to sell it to her. Etc. She said she needs to go home because she wants to sell the house to this other woman. Etc. She needs to go back because if the house is empty she will have to pay more taxes (it has been empty several months because the woman living it with rent and buying option finally got tired of my mother calling her to tell her to leave the house and pay the money she owes (for real) my mother. And the woman my mother wanted to sell the house to didn’t qualify for the lpan . Then she said that woman wanted to rent since she couldn’t buy it but would only rent it if my mother went in person to Orlando. Then my mother said she needs to go to Orlando because it needs to be inspected but she has a handyman there that can take care of it. Now that it is inspected she says she has to go to Orlando because she has to deal with the repairs with the handyman. And now that she knows there is a possible buyer that will buy it “as is”, that the buyer will do the repairs she says she has to go to Orlando to sign the buying contract with the buyer and the bank and the realtor. Also says that she needs to go to Orlando because she has to inform the municipality that she relocated. She is in the beginin of Alzheimer and she presents some of the symptoms but all of the reason she gives for which she wants to go back to Orlando are real. It isn’t necessary that she go but the reasons are real. Reasons that now a day with technology one can do a lot of things been far from the place. Or that the handyman can take care of. She is not saying she wants to go to her house, her home of 30 years because she is not aware of the place she is at. And we can’t tell her “yes I’ll take you there as soon as I’m done with the dishes”. Because she knows it entiles buying ticktes etc. Since my sister and I tell her she can’t go because she can’t be by herself she has asked a lot of people to take her and offered them money for the work ( to buy tickets and fly with her). And since she has aks my sister and I to take her and we say no (we LIVE in PR and all of our lives. She also lived here untl she moved to Orlando 30 years ago.) she has told us several times that since we don’t take her we will be surprised one of this days because someone will help her go back to Orlando. I have the feeling that she wants to live in the house she lived for 30 years, that she was brought to Puerto Rico with the offer to stay fo a while and then go back to her house and home and she wants to have that offer. So I don’t know how to deal with her requests of going back to her home. What, how you think we can do in this situation? Thank you.

    • Reply November 24, 2016

      DailyCaring

      I’m so sorry that you and your sister are struggling with this. This type of behavior is common in people with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Change can be difficult and upsetting, which might be why she’s so set on going home, where everything is familiar. This is a phase that your mom is going through. Since she’s in the early stages, it’s especially difficult because her brain is in good enough shape to know that scary changes are happening. That often causes more acting-out behavior. She may also feel embarrassed about what’s happening to her. Right now, you and your sister can see the changes, but if she’s alone in Orlando, nobody will see her struggle. She may also feel like she’s a burden to you both.

      There are a couple of things you can try to help your mom (and you) through this. In general, be reassuring and kind to make her feel safe and loved. She may or may not show appreciation for this, but try to do it anyway. Since she’s in the early stages, you may think she’s doing ok, but inside, she could be panicking but trying not to show it. Try to reassure her that you’re always there to help and are happy to do so — anything to comfort her as she goes through this. Next, make everyday tasks easier so she won’t feel like she’s failing all the time. Her brain can no longer process things well and even simple tasks like getting ready in the morning or making a meal can become extremely difficult. If you break it down, there are many steps that need to be done in order. Alzheimer’s makes it difficult to remember the steps and sequence them properly. For example, you could break down the steps for her and very subtly (so she won’t be mad that she’s getting help) remind her of the next step. For example, if you’re preparing lunch, give her one task to do, like “Mom can you help me scoop the rice into these bowls?” and have the rice and bowls and scooping spoon already laid out. Once in a while, you could also casually say something like “Mom, I’m so glad you’re here, it’s nice to spend time together.”

      Another thing is to make her feel useful and like she has a purpose. Keep her occupied with activities where she can be successful — like folding laundry, putting dishes away, and other simple chores. Make sure they’re ones that are easy for her to accomplish, you can discreetly watch to see if she’s struggling or not. You can always simplify by giving her only one type of thing to fold at a time, like towels that are the same size. Another example would be to give her responsibility for something like a garden that she’d have to water every day. The point is to make her feel needed and successful. Her execution of the task is not important. If she’s not doing the task well, thank her as if she did a great job and then fix it without her knowing.

      When she brings up moving back to Orlando, try to validate her feelings and then distract her with a change of subject. This may be really tough, but hang in there. Try different approaches to see what works best. When she talks about her Orlando house, you could say “Mom, I know how much you miss it there. What was your favorite thing about living there?” When she says her favorite thing, start talking about that thing. Then, you can slowly turn the subject to something related to that thing, which now becomes a totally different subject from moving back. You’re not saying that she’s moving back, but you’re acknowledging how she’s feeling about the situation and getting her to talk about it. That might be enough for the moment to allow her to move on to another subject or activity. If not, try different ways of validating her feelings and slowly changing the subject.

      Another thing you can do is call the Alzheimer’s Association in Puerto Rico (http://www.alzheimerpr.com/) and ask for advice and referrals to local resources. Maybe something like a day program would help keep your mom occupied and let her make new friends. Think creatively and be open to trying new things, even if you think your mom might not like them at first.

      Best of luck in this! It’s tough, but you will get through it!

  • Reply November 7, 2016

    Sherry Williams

    My Mother-who has this horrific desease-lives with me, and my Father also. She is asking to go home a lot. I do try to calm her, try to Re- Direct her, sooth her etc..however my Father gets irritated with her and says things like ‘quit asking that!’ ‘we are home’s Sit Down!!’ then she starts crying and for some reason turns her anger towards me, telling me to go, that I (me) don’t need to be here. My Dad has always been a know it all, will not listen to what we need to do..try to ‘Train’ her at tasks, then he gets mad when she cannot comply. They live in my home, I am their sole caregiver. My Father has managed to alienate everyone because of his ongoing bad behavior (this behavior has been around all my life…he is on meds for bi polar behavior diagnosed just 4 years ago). Has anyone dealt with anything like this?? He is 80, she is 76 and in her 8th year of Alzheimer’s. She does not know anyone anymore. It’s hard because I can’t have company over or go out much as I cannot have any help in because his behavior is so inappropriate.

    • Reply November 9, 2016

      DailyCaring

      I am so sorry to hear this. It’s a really tough situation. Would you be able to get further treatment for your father’s mood and behavior issues? Perhaps his medications need to be evaluated. You may want to see if there’s a geriatric psychiatrist in your area. Visit this page http://gmhfonline.org/ and click the “Find a Geriatric Psychiatrist” button in the horizontal menu.

      You may also want to contact the Alzheimer’s Association to see if they can offer advice on how to deal with this situation. I’m sure this issue comes up for many families. Go to http://www.alz.org/ online or use the 24/7 Helpline at 1-800-272-3900.

      I would also encourage you to keep looking for help. You need and deserve to get some time off. It will be more difficult to find someone who’s willing and able to handle the situation, but it’s not impossible. Be upfront about your father’s behavior so they’ll know what they’re signing up for. Sometimes it’s easier for an outsider to have a thick skin because it’s not their family member who is saying the hurtful or inappropriate things.

      • Reply November 29, 2016

        Dora Basto

        My mother has alzaheimer , I send her Monday to Saturday to a day care, is the best decision I have done, she love it !!!!!

        • Reply November 29, 2016

          DailyCaring

          That’s wonderful Dora! An adult day program is fun for your mother and a great way for you to get time to work or take care of other important matters during the day.

  • Reply October 30, 2016

    Marathon John D Gaffney

    Isnt the best answer to say to someone that has ALZ disease that the home that they re in is that they re already home!!! The reason why I’m asking is Ur love ones think in the past ;when they were kids;so isn t best to say ;THIS Is UR Home so they don t dwell on their past !!!

    • Reply October 30, 2016

      Marathon John D Gaffney

      Can t someone with ALZ disease see through the B.S. even though they ve got ALZ? I blong to (2) ALZ support groups & this is what we talk about @ the ALZ support group meetings? People with ALZ don t have their short term memory but their long -term memory is still intact!!!

      • Reply October 30, 2016

        DailyCaring

        It’s true that generally Alzheimer’s causes short-term memory loss and long-term memories hang around longer. Every person with Alzheimer’s is different, but what we often hear is that as the disease progresses, more and more long-term memories are lost too.

        Like I said in my previous answer, Alzheimer’s is not something that the person can control. That’s like saying someone with diabetes should be able to control their insulin and make it work when they want to. That’s not possible. And it’s often not possible for someone with Alzheimer’s to use logic and reason like they used to. It also causes problems with language — they may be thinking of something that’s completely correct, but because of the disease, the words get scrambled when they come out of their mouth and you can’t understand them.

        Especially in earlier stages, many people with Alzheimer’s can have good moments along with the bad. That doesn’t mean that they’re not still affected by the disease or that they have control over when these good moments happen.

      • Reply October 30, 2016

        DailyCaring

        Alzheimer’s and other dementias are diseases that damage parts of the brain. That means that someone with this disease is no longer able to use their brain as a healthy person would. One way to think of it is to compare it to something like diabetes. With diabetes, the body has trouble with insulin and because of that, they can no longer process sugars properly. Trying to ask someone with dementia to use their brain like a healthy person is like asking someone with diabetes to process sugar like a healthy person. It’s just not possible.

        So, when you use logic and reason to tell someone with Alzheimer’s that they are already in their home, it confuses and upsets them because that’s not what their brain is telling them. And, it’s difficult for their brain to process the logical reasoning that you’re telling them. This usually causes them to be angry, anxious, scared, sad, and a range of other negative emotions.

        That’s why it’s best to validate what the person believes. You don’t have to agree with them, but it’s important not to disagree with them. Try some of the suggestions in this article to see if they can improve the situation. It may take a little time for you to practice this technique and figure out what responses work well.

  • Reply August 22, 2016

    Sue Anne Reyes

    For a long time, my grandma who was admitted in a caregiving home insisted that she wants to go home. And yes, not our home but our home up in the heaven. Thanks for sharing this one!

    • Reply August 22, 2016

      Connie Chow

      So glad you found this helpful! Big hugs to you and your grandmother <3

  • Reply June 12, 2016

    Debbie Zeis

    My patients do say they want to go to heaven! I told her it was okay when ever the lord was ready for you.

    • Reply June 12, 2016

      Connie Chow

      That’s a wonderful response Debbie. Your patients may not even mean heaven as we would typically think of it. But regardless, I’m sure they feel good when they hear your warm and reassuring response.

  • Reply February 16, 2016

    Sharon Ray

    I think when they say they want to go home, they mean their Heavenly Home!! I have seen this a loot!!

    • Reply February 16, 2016

      Connie Chow

      Very true, Sharon! That’s definitely possible for those who have religious or spiritual beliefs.

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