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What to Do When Adults with Dementia or Alzheimer’s Ask to Go Home

Caregiver and elderly woman

Taking care of seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s, though rewarding, can be very frustrating prospect. Seniors often repeat requests to go “home” even while still living in their own homes.

They can get frustrated and agitated when they feel no one is listening to their request or, even more frustrated that their request is heard but then blown off without resolution.

Caregivers can also get frustrated when asked over and over to take a dementia or Alzheimer’s patient home. They must find a way to respond calmly when addressing these requests. An agitated caregiver response is unlikely to calm an agitated senior with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Since home is, for many of us, our safe place, seniors with various forms of dementia often ask to go there when what they are really trying to communicate is something else. So what are they really asking for and what can caregivers do when ask for it?

3 Tips on How to Respond
Try these methods of response to “I want to go home” when trying to respond in a soothing manner while avoiding further agitation or escalation into a big fight. Don’t get discouraged. Get creative. After all, caregivers often know their loved ones better than others who are not involved in the details of your day to day routine.

These methods may not work the first time, nor every time. You may have to try a few times until you get better at it. Don’t give up! This is hard but gets easier with practice.

Offer Comfort as Well as Reassurance
Use a relaxed and soothing approach. If your body language or tone of voice indicates that you are frustrated or angry, then you will only escalate your loved one’s frustration or fear. Likewise, if you remain calm, they will subconsciously mirror your mood and calm down.

Often your senior will ask to go home as a response to fear or anxiety. This indicates a need for extra comfort. Use your knowledge of your senior to offer something you know is familiar and comforting. Hugging, singing, offering a gentle touch on the arm or shoulder, or just sitting with them can bring about a calming of their fear or anxiety.

You may also offer a favorite blanket, or even a stuffed animal to cuddle.

Avoid Logic and Reasoning
Seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s are at the mercy of their disease. They must live in the reality in their head and not the reality of the world around them. Trying to explain that they don’t need to go home because they are home will not work, especially if they are only asking to go home because they are afraid or anxious.

Logic and Reasoning will not work on a person with a brain disease since they cannot process the information you are giving them. Also, reasoning with them will often just agitate them further.
They may sense that you are just trying to deny them something they see as a need.
Validation, Redirection and Distraction
These techniques are quite challenging. Don’t be hard on yourself if it takes several attempts to perfect them. These are skills that improve with practice.

  1. Validation. Validate your senior’s request by agreeing with them. You can say something along the lines of “Ok, we can go in a few minutes.” or “Sure, we can go as soon as I finish folding the laundry.”
  2. Redirection. After you agree with your senior, try to redirect their attention in a subtle manner. It’s ok if you feel sneaky. Just act casual. Remember, the goal is to redirect your senior’s attention away from going home and toward something pleasant.
  3. Distraction. For example, you could gently take them by the hand while saying, “Ok. Let’s just get your (sweater, shoes, handbag, etc.) and begin walking. Try walking past a window and stopping to point out something beautiful outside such as the birds or something blooming in the garden, or a child playing in a neighbor’s yard. You might then offer them a snack or treat they will like. Later on, you can redirect their attention back to something in their regular daily routine.

You could also try saying, “Ok, just let me get my (sweater, keys, handbag, etc.)” Then distract them with a cup of coffee or a cookie and glass of milk, or segue into a favorite activity.

Try asking them about their home, which will validate their feelings. It will also help them focus on positive memories and, thereby distract them from their desire to go home. Later, redirect their attention to something in their daily routine.

If All Else Fails
On occasion your senior will refuse to be distracted from the idea of going home. If this occurs, then try taking them on a short car ride. After a few times, you can gauge the distance and brevity required before you can return them to their present residence without protest. You can also try stopping for a coffee and pie, or any other distracting treat.

Sometimes it’s impossible to actually take them for an outing, or to get them into a car. Try going through the motions of getting ready. This validates their request and soothes their agitation. It also gives you more opportunities to redirect their attention elsewhere.

At the End of the Day...
When told, “I want to go home,” you must be willing to step into your loved one’s reality in order to respond to the emotion behind the question, and to calm your senior’s anxiety or fear. Until they are soothed, seniors will not give up on their goal of going home.

Call Home Helpers today, or visit our website, for assistance in caring for your loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia. For more caregiving tips, visit our blog.