Updated: Dec 17, 2018
Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers often hear their seniors say “I want to go home” over and over. This can be difficult and frustrating, especially when the senior is already home. But how can you respond in a way that helps the senior calm down and move on in a positive direction?
First, try to understand why they are saying this and what they really mean. Alzheimer’s takes away a senior’s ability to communicate effectively. Often times, when the senior says he wants to go home, he is not talking about the physical location of his home. It could mean that he feels unsafe or insecure or that he wants to be with family. It may be a request for comfort rather than wanting to go somewhere. Look past the actual words being spoken and try to discern why the senior feels that way.
Second, do your best to stay calm and not take it personally. Remember that this is the disease talking, not the senior. When you stay calm, you will be in a far better position to help the senior stay calm too.
Third, use kind and calming responses to help you avoid upsetting the senior or getting into a fight. When you better understand why the senior is saying “I want to go home,” you will be better prepared to respond in a way that meets the senior’s needs. For example, the senior may be saying “I want to go home” because he feels unsafe or uncomfortable. Your response, then, should allay the senior’s anxiety and fear so they can feel safe and comfortable. Alzheimer’s and dementia alters a person’s brain to experience the world in a new and different way. Try to be understanding, focus on comfort and reassurance, and respond to the emotions rather than the words.
Here are three responses that you may use when the senior says “I want to go home”:
Reassure and comfort. Approach the senior with a calm and soothing manner. The senior will pick up on your body language and tone of voice and will subconsciously match you by calming down as well. Depending on your senior, this would be a good time for physical comfort, such as a hug, gentle touching, or stroking the arm. Perhaps the senior would prefer if you simply sat with him. You could provide additional comfort with a blanket, therapy doll, or stuffed animal.
Avoid reasoning and explanations. Do not try to explain that the assisted living is now his home or that he is already at home. Trying to use reason with someone who has a brain disease will only make the senior more insistent, agitated, and distressed. The senior will not understand what you are saying and will feel like you are stopping him from doing something important to him.
Agree, redirect, and distract. First, agree and validate the senior’s feelings. This will calm the senior because you are not telling him he is wrong. Then, redirect and distract. Subtly redirect his attention to pleasant and distracting activities that will take his mind off wanting to go home. For example, you could say “Okay, we’ll go soon” and then walk down the hall to a big window. Point out some beautiful birds and flowers or offer a snack or drink he likes. Later, casually shift back to his normal daily routine. Or you can ask the senior to tell you about his home. You can later guide the conversation to a neutral topic. Asking about his home validates the senior’s feelings, encourages him to share positive memories, and distracts him from his original goal of going home. If the senior is stubborn and won’t let go of the idea of going home, you could try a brief car ride or go through the actions of getting ready to leave. This can give you more opportunity to redirect the senior to a different activity.
These suggestions can guide you in the right direction, but you may need to get creative. Not everything you try will work the first time or even work every time you try. Don’t get discouraged, though. It will get easier with practice and you can be successful.