6 ways to help someone with dementia who keeps asking to go home

It can be painful and frustrating to hear a loved one with Alzheimer’s or any other form of dementia say repeatedly that they want to go home but lots do. Here are a few strategies which might help you both cope

Could this be you?

The person you’re caring for seems on edge. They may have recently moved house and you’ve done your very best to make them as comfortable as possible but
• They cry, plead and insist frequently that they want to go home.
• They refuse to unpack or keep re-packing their suitcases.
• You’re worried they’re going to try and ‘go home’ on their own.

The plaintive cry, ‘I want to go home!’ is one that strikes dread in the hearts of family and friends, particularly if a loved one with dementia recently moved into a care home. However, it is a fairly common challenge in the mid to late stages of dementia. Here’s a few ways to deal with it.

1. Gently tell the truth

If they seem genuinely disorientated by their surroundings – perhaps they’re getting used to a new environment and keep forgetting that they’ve moved – remind them often that they’re now living with you, or have moved into sheltered accommodation or a care home. This sort of reassurance might be enough to calm them down.

Tips:

• Keep giving exactly the same explanation about where they are, and why they moved, each time they ask. For example, ‘You were getting lonely living on your own so you decided to move here. You’re really safe and everyone’s very friendly. You aren’t lonely anymore.’
• You don’t need to keep repeating all the complicated events which led up to them moving (especially if they involved upsetting experiences such as a fall or an accident at home). Whatever you say, try to make it clear that the move was as much their decision as anyone else’s.

2. Distract with something pleasurable

If you’ve tried telling the truth and found your loved one became even more irate, saying for example, ‘But I’ve changed my mind about moving! I want to go home!’ It’s probably wisest to give up gracefully – getting locked into arguments about whose decision it was to move and why they can’t go home now, isn’t helpful to either of you. Instead, try suggesting you do something enjoyable together, such as going for a walk, eating a cream cake, or listening to some favourite music. Once they’re absorbed in a pleasurable activity, there’s a good chance they’ll feel calmer and stop asking that question… for a while, at least.

3. Identify the cause

If you don’t feel comfortable with the idea of constantly distracting them – or find it only works for a short period of time – it’s worth taking a step back and trying to work out if there was a particular trigger for that question. For example,
• Has a friend from the past or a former neighbour been to visit recently? If so, they’re bound to be thinking more about their old home.
• Are they feeling tired? Getting used to a new environment can be exhausting especially if there’s lots going on.
• Has their normal familiar routine been disrupted and made them feel stressed or anxious?
Remember, it’s natural to long for ‘home’ if you’re feeling worn out or unsettled by something new. Helping your loved one to wind down and relax could help put them at ease, reminding them that they’re in a safe place, even if it isn’t ‘home’.

4. Connect to the emotion of the words

You might not be able to take them home but you can validate the emotion they’re trying to express. For example, you could say, ‘You really miss the old place, don’t you?’ Then talk for a while about their memories of home.

5. Understand that ‘home’ can mean many different things

Don’t assume they’re referring to the house they’ve just left. The home they’re longing for could be a childhood home, or the house they lived in when their children were born. Get the photograph albums out and go ‘home’ with them in pictures.

6. Don’t feel guilty or get angry

Witnessing their bewilderment, grief and longing for home can be painful but it’s not your fault and it’s not their fault either… it’s their illness talking.

Two common questions

Should I try taking them to see their old home?
It’s doubtful whether this will help. In fact, it might make them feel even more agitated or upset, especially if they’re confused about the reasons they moved. Plus, it might not even be this particular ‘home’ that they’re yearning for. It could be somewhere they lived 50 years ago!
But if you think a trip down memory lane might help them and clear up some confusion, it could be worth considering.

Should I lie?
Nobody wants to lie to a person with dementia but if all else fails, a therapeutic lie may be necessary. Remember, your aim is to help your loved one feel as calm and content as possible. If that means saying ‘we’ll go home after we’ve had lunch,’ or ‘We’ve just missed the bus, let’s go later,’ then you could decide it’s worth it.