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 mean. Next, do your best to not take it personally so you can stay calm too.
3 ways to respond to “I want to go home”
Use these three methods to respond when you hear “I want to go home.” They’re soothing and help you avoid big fights.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
You might also like:
— 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 Staff
Image: More than Coping