How to Respond When Your Loved One Repeats, “I Want to Go Home”

  • Nearly anyone who has known or cared for a person with Alzheimer's has heard the heart-breaking plea, "I want to go home. Take me home."


    The caregiver often first responds with, "You are home!" Sympathy, mixed with frustration, can cause caregiver angst. It seems nothing we say or do works. Even if it we stumble upon something that sooths our elder one day, that exact response gets us nowhere the next. Before long, we once again hear him say, "I want to go home."


    I won't pretend that I know a real "answer" to this sad predicament. If there is one, I'd like to hear about it. However, a little education can help us go with the flow.

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    First of all, the "home" an elder wants to go to probably isn't the one he recently left. It's most likely the home from when he was first married or even farther back, such as a childhood home. So you can let yourself off the hook. Most likely, there is no way anyone could take him to the home he sees in his brain.


    As Alzheimer's destroys parts of the brain, the short-term memory is the first to go. Long-term memory, therefore, is all this person has to work with. In general, the more advanced the disease, the further back in time the elder's mental process leads him.


    I well remember an aged little lady in the nursing home where my loved ones lived. She would use her legs to inch her wheelchair up and down the hallway as she murmured "Mama, Mama."  My heart about broke when I saw and heard her. She was mentally back in her childhood, pleading for her mother. How does one handle that without some tears?


    Many kind staff members and regular visitors tried to comfort the woman, but no one could help her long. We could not bring her to her mama.


    This woman had a version of the same situation you are facing with your loved one, if he or she is asking to go home. You are asked to do the impossible.


    What Do We Do?


    Once we caregivers realize that we cannot truly fulfill the request from our loved one, we are free to be creative. First of all, patting his arm or hugging him when he is in this mode can be comforting. Then, distracting him, can work for awhile. Keeping handy a photo album with pictures of a home that he may still remember can help. Then you can say, "Let's sit on the couch here and find your home."


    Then, slowly page through the photo album as though looking for his home. Maybe you'll get lucky and find the one that he remembers. Maybe you won't. But you will find pictures to distract him. Photos of his parents when he was young and childhood pictures of siblings often work well. Keep him interested in the photos for as long as possible, and you may get a break from the mantra of wanting to go home.


    Photo albums are one form of distraction. Another would be music from the 1930s or 40s, or a DVD of a familiar old movie. The idea is to get the person's mind away from wanting to go home.


    Will this last? No. It's a temporary fix, as nearly anything we do for a person with Alzheimer's is. However, it's a kind and compassionate fix, and this distraction can sooth both the caregiver and the care receiver.


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    Once the distraction has worked, the preferred method is re-direction. I find the two are often related if not the same thing (not always). The photo album is used as a distraction, but then the person gets re-directed toward talking about siblings or some other topic.


    There are other measures for handing this issue. I've heard of people who tell their loved one, "Okay, let's go home." Then they take the person around a few blocks in the car, come back and announce, "We're home!" This solution makes me smile. All I can say to that is whatever works.


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Published On: August 20, 2010