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

Alzheimers dementia i want to go home

3 tips for when someone with Alzheimer’s says “I want to go home”

Hearing someone 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.

But when someone has dementia, it simply doesn’t work to use logic to explain that they’re already home or that they can’t go back to a previous home.

Instead, it’s necessary to respond in a way that comforts and calms your older adult.

We explain why someone would keep asking to go home and share 3 kind, soothing ways to respond that help them let go of the idea.




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Why someone with dementia asks to go home

Alzheimer’s and dementia damage the brain and cause a person to experience the world in different ways. 

So, what we hear as “I want to go home” is often a request for comfort rather than literally asking to go somewhere.

The kindest thing to do is to meet them where they are, focus on comfort and reassurance, and respond to the emotions behind their request. The goal is to reduce your older adult’s anxiety or fear so they can let go of the idea.

Helping them to calm down also gives you a chance to check if discomfort, pain, or a physical need is causing this behavior.

 

3 kind, calming ways to respond to “I want to go home”

These suggestions will put you on the right track, but it’s a good idea to get creative and come up with responses that are tailored for your older adult’s history, personality, and preferences.

1. Reassure and comfort​ to validate their needs
Sometimes saying “I want to go home” is how your older adult tells you they’re tense, anxious, scared, or in need of extra comfort. 

By responding in a calm and positive manner, you’ll validate their needs and feelings. This helps them feel understood and supported.

Approach your older adult with a calm, soothing, and relaxed manner. If you remain calm, it often helps them calm down too.

If they like hugs, this is a good time for 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 soothing blanket, therapy doll, or stuffed animal.

2. Avoid reasoning and explanations
Trying to use reason and logic isn’t recommended when someone has a brain disease. It will only make them more insistent, agitated, and upset.

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

They won’t be able to process that information and will feel like you’re not listening, you don’t care, or that you’re stopping them from doing something that’s important to them.

3. Validate, redirect, and distract
Being able to redirect and distract is an effective dementia care technique. It’s a skill that improves with practice, so don’t feel discouraged if the first few attempts don’t work perfectly.

First, agree and validate
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.” This calms the situation because you’re not telling them they’re wrong.

Next, 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 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 to get the sweater 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 their 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?
  • What is your favorite room of the house?



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What to do if they refuse to let go of the idea

Sometimes, your older adult will 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 need to agree to take them home and then go for a brief car ride.

Experiment with how long it takes before you can take them home without protest. Or, suggest a stop at the ice cream shop, drugstore, or grocery store to distract and redirect.

If it’s not possible to actually take them out or get into the car, even going through the actions of getting ready to leave can still be soothing. This will shows that you agree with them and are helping to achieve their goal.

Meanwhile, the activities of getting ready give you more chances to distract and redirect to something else.

Keep in mind that not everything you try will work the first time. And even if something works once, it might not work the next time. Do your best to stay calm, flexible, and creative – this technique gets easier with practice.

 

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By DailyCaring Editorial Team
Image: Onecussion


82 Comments

  • Reply January 23, 2019

    Dee

    My mother tells us every day several times that she wants to go home even though she is home (after a few weeks in hospital), in the house where she has lived for 40 years. When I ask where home is, she recites her childhood address. Problem is her childhood was extremely unhappy, as her father was violent towards her mother. If she is ‘living’ in her childhood past, it is a terrible place.

    • Reply January 23, 2019

      DailyCaring

      It’s possible that she’s feeling a bit disoriented after her hospital stay or that she has some hospital-induced delirium. More info on that here — https://dailycaring.com/hospitalization-can-cause-delirium-in-seniors-know-the-signs/

      It does sound like she’s literally talking about her childhood home, but it’s also possible that she’s trying to express something different. We’ve got an article that talks more about why someone might say that they want to go home and other possible meanings — https://dailycaring.com/when-someone-with-alzheimers-says-i-want-to-go-home/

      It’s possible that she answers your question with her childhood address because you’ve asked where her home is (whether she originally intended to talk about her literal home or not). It’s also possible that she’s not recalling the negative parts of her childhood when she’s thinking of “home.”

      Hopefully some of the distraction and redirection suggestions in the article above will also be helpful.

    • Reply January 25, 2019

      Valerie

      Maybe all she wants is her Mommie. I’m 57 and still to this day when I’m sick I hear my self say : I want my Mommie.

  • Reply November 1, 2018

    Lee

    Can anyone tell me how to address the problem with meds. My mom has always took care of her own meds and now they say it’s time for me to and this made her very made. So I gave her her IBUPROFEN back in her room but refused to let her keep her muscle relaxer and other meds back but assured her someone was always here to bring her one as it was needed. She didn’t want to hear that and wants to know who told me to keep them put up. I explain the paramedics that came to check on her. Said so. Still very angry at me and she said it’s not happening. What is my responsibility lawfully and personally right for her. She can’t remember even a few mins except what made her mad

    • Reply November 7, 2018

      DailyCaring

      This is definitely a tough situation, we see so many people with dementia who try their best to hold on to what they used to be able to do safely and easily because of the fear of losing it. It’s a tough adjustment for everyone when there’s so much resistance.

      If she’s the type of person who listens to authority figures, it may be helpful to have her doctor tell her that this is necessary and that they want you to take over her medication management to keep her safe.

      It’s also possible that she’ll never believe that she’s not capable of doing this for herself no matter what anyone says. You could try different creative strategies like giving her medications back, but substituting everything with harmless candy like Tic Tacs or the tiny size of M&Ms. I’d suggest removing the ibuprofen as well, that can still cause significant negative side effects if taken improperly.

      With her harmless “medications,” she can take them when she thinks she should and it won’t hurt her health (assuming she’s not diabetic). Then, you can keep her real medications and give them to her when the time is right. You could have the doctor help by saying that there’s one medication that will be better for you to help with. This may seem odd, but letting her feel like she’s in control of almost everything may help her be more ok with you helping with medication.

      You may also be able to use her impairment with short term memory to your advantage. Keep the interaction pleasant and tell her just this one time that you need to give her this one pill (which is her regular medication) because the doctor called and asked you to. If she doesn’t remember, you could say that every time and it would still seem like a one-off situation to her. That way, it’s not like you’re permanently taking over her medication.

      It may take some creative thinking and patient experimentation before you find something that works.

  • Reply October 15, 2018

    catt

    Sorry I think they do know where there home was in t here past and being there memory are stuck in past so is there home some things seem to comfort them looking at old pictures of fam I ly ad pets a soft blanket the lights dim soft music old movies petting a cat or dog sitting in the sun looking at what ever comes bees flowers feeling the breeze I think we worry to much about there step backs in there minds even so-called normal people do this we have to enjoy what they enjoy and stop slapping them in the face with our reality let them enjoy there lives in there own way

    • Reply October 15, 2018

      DailyCaring

      It’s definitely possible that someone would be thinking about a home from another time. Great tips to help them enjoy their current reality and keep them feeling secure and comfortable while reminiscing.

  • […] At Atlanta Home Care Partners, our specially instructed Alzheimer’s and dementia care Atlanta staff helps families deal with challenging circumstances such as this, and we recommend trying the following to help you return peace to an anxious loved one with dementia: […]

  • Reply April 6, 2018

    Marianne

    My mom has passed, but this happened frequently. I tried the distraction techniques, she was in fact in her home – and I had moved in to take care of her. I eventually would say “Mom, I need you to stay with me in ‘our new home’ so I don’t worry so much, can you help me” Usually letting her know how much I need her. I would also point out some of her possessions to say we ” brought her stuff ” It would calm her for a bit. Mostly I saw that she was sad when she was saying this. And comforting was definitely the best approach. (A wonderful caretaker shared this advice with me, and it did work)

    • Reply April 6, 2018

      DailyCaring

      I’m so sorry for your loss 💔 It’s wonderful that you found some responses that worked to help her feel calmer and more comforted about the situation 💜

  • Reply December 12, 2017

    Amy

    yes, very truth, thanks! last Sat, i had a conversation with some elderly. As they want to know how i do in my first semester back to school. I begin to share with them it’s very helpful to learn the right way to write and speak. My writing class is very creative, the teacher told us to write our journey, each day in the classroom, she has 10 questions for us and let us choose one of them to write a journey. It’s about our childhood memory, about our favorite movie, about our favorite holidays, about if there is one wish I can make, what would my wish be. That’s a good opening to get to know each other Then GOD grants me a wisdom why not ask the elderly to share about their childhood memories, about their favorite holiday and their wish. Guess what? I surprised, two of them said they want the LORD to take them home. We had a good one hour sharing in that moment as they can participate with my homework to share about their journey. I work at nursing home as an activity aide, and deals with dementia elderly and wheel chair elderly.

    • Reply December 13, 2017

      DailyCaring

      It’s wonderful that you volunteer to spend time with older adults and brighten their days by listening to their cherished memories! 💜💜

  • Reply November 10, 2017

    Gee

    My sister and I both are dealing with this exact issue right now where our 82 yr old mom , was in an ALF got sick and spent 2 wks in the hosp from there another two weeks in a SNF for therapy , while at the hosp we were told by the ALF that she was living at for the last 3 months , that she can not come back because she required oxygen and they do not have accommodations for oxygen ! Anyway just yesterday she went to 10 bed all female ALF… and did not want to stay she kept saying her mother would be worried , that she had some laundry to do etc… after much reassurance ,we had to make a sneaky get away … they called my sister and told her she was okay that she had gotten her nails polished ..today we got a call that she is belligerent refused all her meds , food and is attempting to leave! We don’t know what to do !! We can not care for her at home. We are both nurses and know very well the Alzheimer’s process and have worked in the field my entire nursing career , until it happens to you it’s totally different :/

    • Reply November 11, 2017

      DailyCaring

      I’m so sorry this is happening 🙁 You’re absolutely right, it can be completely different when the situation is personal 💔 So many former nurses have said the same thing. It sounds like the moves to the hospital and to the new ALF may have been disorienting. Dementia symptoms can definitely worsen after trauma or a move because she may be feeling scared or confused. Plus, there could be some hospital-induced delirium involved too.

      In case you haven’t already checked for this, could it be possible that she’s in pain or discomfort related to her hospitalization? People with dementia often can’t communicate pain, but it can cause them to act out in unpredictable ways. Discomfort from constipation can also cause challenging behavior.

      To help her feel calmer, it may help to give her a doll or stuffed animal that she can cuddle and take care of — http://dailycaring.com/the-positive-effect-of-therapy-dolls-for-dementia/

      A weighted lap blanket may also help — http://dailycaring.com/weighted-blankets-in-dementia-care-reduce-anxiety-and-improve-sleep/

      Since she’s at an ALF, I’m not sure how willing they are to help her try activities to find ones she enjoys, but we’ve got some activity suggestions that often calm and soothe:
      http://dailycaring.com/6-alzheimers-sensory-activities-reduce-anxiety-without-medication/
      http://dailycaring.com/6-ways-to-help-seniors-with-alzheimers-keep-hands-busy/
      –http://dailycaring.com/10-fun-failure-free-activities-for-people-with-dementia/

      In case it’s helpful, here’s some info on how to figure out what could be causing challenging behavior — http://dailycaring.com/dealing-with-difficult-alzheimers-dementia-symptoms/

      If this care community isn’t experienced in dementia care, you may consider looking for one specializing in memory care (care for people with dementia). There are a variety of techniques that can be used by staff to validate, calm, and redirect residents so they remain as calm and happy as possible. There are also things that staff could unintentionally be doing that could alarm or agitate your mom (because they’re not experienced in dementia care). Some examples here — http://dailycaring.com/how-to-reduce-resistance-to-care-in-dementia-an-expert-demonstrates-video/

      I hope these suggestions are helpful 💜💜 Big hugs

    • Reply October 10, 2018

      Anonymous

      You are exactly right! Im a CNA and work with Alzheimer’s. LOVE MY JOB! My mom is in a nursing home with dementia, I have such a hard time visiting her. Quilt. I try my best comfort my residents family. They tell me I’m their angel.. inside if feel the devil because I’m not there for my own mother.

  • […] At Advanced Home Health Care, our specially instructed Alzheimer’s and dementia care staff helps family members manage tricky situations such as this, and we would suggest trying the following to help you restore peacefulness to an upset senior with dementia: […]

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