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Advice for Michigan Caregivers When a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Says, “I Want to Go Home”

agingadultsbylakeIf a senior loved one with Alzheimer’s disease lives in a memory care assisted living community, these may be familiar words: “Take me home.” “Why can’t I go home?” Both phrases can cause anguish for adult children. You know you’ve made the right choice for your loved one’s well-being, but that doesn’t really make it any easier to hear those words from someone you love. What Michigan caregivers should understand, however, is that those words don’t always mean what you think they do.

The impact Alzheimer’s disease has on the brain can impair verbal skills and create memory loss. That makes it harder for people living with the disease to understand where they are and to express what they need or why they are feeling sad.

For someone with Alzheimer’s disease, “Going Home” might really mean:

“Where am I?”

Living with Alzheimer’s disease is frightening and lonely. Think about how it would feel if you couldn’t recognize your surroundings and the faces of the people around you aren’t familiar. 

“I’m frightened.”

Now imagine you are in a strange place, and you can’t use words to tell the people there how you feel or what you need. For example, if you have to go to the bathroom, but don’t know where it is or you are hungry but don’t see a kitchen. 

Home is really a feeling of belonging.

Alzheimer’s patients usually lose more recent memories first. As they try to adapt to the changes they are experiencing, home is used to describe a feeling of belonging. It may be a place they lived in as a child or young adult or a time they felt a sense of belonging. 

Knowing how to respond when a loved one with dementia tells you they want to go home can help you keep them from getting agitated. Two suggestions to try:

  1. Try to determine if something is physically wrong.

Are they grimacing? Maybe they are in pain and can’t express that. Ask yes or no questions to try to figure it out. “Are you in pain?” “Is it your head that hurts?” You may need to try a few things like taking their temperature to see if they have an infection. If that isn’t it, maybe they need to use the bathroom or are hungry or thirsty. Show them the cues they might need. Walk them to the bathroom or show them a glass of water or a jar of applesauce.

  1. Agree with them and make a plan. 

One of the challenges of trying to help someone with Alzheimer’s is that their short-term memory loss makes it hard for them to understand and remember. So trying to convince them that the assisted living community is “home” won’t work. The disease has impaired their ability to accept this change. Instead, agree with what they are asking for and make a plan to do it in the future. “I know you miss your house. Maybe we can go visit it tomorrow.” That will likely help to satisfy them right now and allow you re-direct their attention to something in the present.

We hope this gives you insight and some helpful ways to cope with this very difficult issue. Come to our website for more information on Alzheimer’s Disease and how to manage it with your aging loved one.