When Someone with Alzheimer’s Says “I Want to Go Home”
Hearing seniors say “I want to go home” over and over again is something Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers often deal with. It’s especially frustrating to hear when they’re already home.
The big question is how to respond in a way that calms them down and helps them let go of the idea. First, it helps to understand why they’re saying this and what they really mean. Next, do your best to not take it personally so you can stay calm too.
Then, use one of these 3 kind responses. These calming answers can help you avoid upsetting your older adult or getting into a big fight.
Why they’re asking to go home
“I want to go home” is usually a request for comfort rather than asking to go somewhere. When responding, the goal is to reduce your older adult’s anxiety and fear so they can let go of the idea.
This terrible disease causes people’s brains to experience the world in a different or strange way. The best thing you can do is meet them where they are, focus on comfort and reassurance, and respond to the emotions behind their request.
These suggestions will put you on the right track, but be prepared to get creative too. Not everything you try will work the first time. And even if something works once, it might not work every time. Don’t get discouraged, this definitely gets easier with practice.
3 kind, soothing responses to “I want to go home”
1. Reassure and comfort
Approach your older adult with a calm, soothing, and relaxed manner. If you remain calm, they’ll start calming down too. They’ll pick up on your body language and tone of voice and will subconsciously start to match you.
Sometimes saying “I want to go home” is how your senior tells you they’re tense, anxious, scared, or in need of extra comfort. If they like hugs, this is a good time for a big one. Others may prefer gentle touching or stroking on their arm or shoulder or simply having you sit with them.
Another way of giving extra comfort and reassurance is to give them a comforting blanket, therapy doll, or stuffed animal to cuddle.
2. Avoid reasoning and explanations
Don’t try to explain that they’re in their own home, assisted living is now their home, or they moved in with you 3 years ago.
Trying to use reason and logic with someone who has a brain disease will only make them more insistent, agitated, and distressed. They won’t be able to process that information and will feel like you’re stopping them from doing something they know is important.
3. Agree, then redirect and distract
Being able to redirect and distract is a challenging, but very effective technique. It’s a skill that improves with practice, so don’t get down on yourself up if the first few attempts don’t work perfectly.
First, agree and validate
Agree by saying something like “Ok, we’ll go soon.” or “That’s a good idea. We’ll go as soon as I clean up these dishes.” This calms the situation because you’re not telling them they’re wrong.
Then, redirect and distract
After agreeing, subtly redirect their attention. This redirection should lead into pleasant and distracting activities that take their minds away from wanting to go home.
For example, you could gently take their elbow while saying “Ok, we’ll go soon” and walk down the hall together to a big window or to the kitchen. Point out some of the beautiful birds and flowers outside or offer a snack or drink they like. Later, casually shift to another activity that’s part of their daily routine.
Another example is saying “Ok, let’s get your sweater so you won’t be cold when we go outside.” Then, while you’re both walking and chatting about something pleasant, stop for a cup of tea or get involved in an activity they enjoy.
Or, ask them to tell you about their home. After a while, guide the conversation to a neutral topic. Asking about their home validates their feelings, encourages them to share positive memories, and distracts them from their original goal of going home.
Open questions that encourage them to share their thoughts work well. For example:
- Your home sounds lovely, tell me more about it.
- What’s the first thing you’re going to do when you get home?
- What is your favorite room of the house?
What to do if nothing is working…
Sometimes, your older adult will be stubborn and refuse to let go of the idea of going home no matter how much you try to soothe or redirect.
If that happens, you might want to take them on a brief car ride. Experiment with how far and how long you need to drive before you can go back to where they live without protest. Or, suggest a stop at the ice cream parlor for a nice (distracting) treat!
If it’s not possible to actually take them out or get into the car, the actions of getting ready to leave can still be soothing because it shows that you believe them and are helping to achieve their goal. Meanwhile, the activities of getting ready give you more chances to redirect to a different activity.