There are many seniors who make the transition to assisted living or memory care comfortably. But unfortunately, due to the nature of the disease, sometimes loved ones are faced with an uncomfortable request: “I want to go home.” Such a plea is heartbreaking, and when you hear it every time you visit it can leave you quite distressed.
The first thing to know is that when your loved one says “home,” they probably don’t mean their previous residence. Remember that due to Alzheimer’s and dementia, they’re living in their earlier years. Home is most likely their childhood home, and that place and the people they lived with may be long gone. So before you beat yourself up with guilt, know that they are requesting something impossible that you couldn’t give them no matter how hard you tried.
The best way to deal with this request is with gentleness and a little bit of subterfuge. This is one of those moments where enabling your loved one’s denial may be the better course. Avoid correcting or arguing with your loved one, as this will only cause distress without really aiding them in recognizing the truth.
First, use positive body language such as nodding your head. Then try to change the subject. Look for something interesting going on in the immediate environment. Maybe there’s a bird outside the window, or a colorful painting nearby. Point this out to them and shift the conversation. It may also be helpful if you can move them physically: guide them to the object of interest or turn them to face a different direction. You are trying to get them out of an unproductive rut.
From there, seguey into your loved one’s memories. Get them to talk about what “home” was. This will help them pay this cherished place a visit, if only in their minds. A photo album might be helpful here if you have one. Your discussion may give you some clues about how you can bring home to them in their new living space. Perhaps there are beloved objects or furniture that will help their new surroundings feel more familiar.
Your loved one will likely not completely stop talking about home, and you’ll likely continue to feel the pangs of heartbreak. However, some knowledge about where the request is coming from can help you accept it. This is a case where you may not be able to change external circumstances, but you can change how you react to them.