Most caregivers are initially caught off guard when someone with dementia pleads, “I want to go home!” Often times, this request is made when the person is already at home. Rather than responding with reality orientation (e.g. “You are home!” or “This is your home now!”), it’s usually much more helpful and compassionate to dig a little deeper and explore their notion of “home.”
“I want to go home” is usually a request for comfort rather than an appeal to actually go somewhere. Many experts say that people with dementia are trying to express that they need the feeling of safety, comfort and control. That’s what “home” means to them.
Since every person is different and the emotions driving the request to go “home” can vary dramatically, the approach needs to be individualized and more than one tactic may need to employed to put the person at ease.
1. Reassure and comfort
Approach your client or loved one with a calm and soothing voice, letting them know that you’re there to help. In some cases, holding the person’s hand or giving them a hug will be appropriate; other times, simply sitting or walking with them is comforting enough.
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 three years ago. Trying to use reason and logic with someone who has dementia will only make them more insistent, agitated, and distressed. They won’t be able to process that information and will feel like you’re preventing them from doing something they know is important.
3. Validate, then redirect and distract
Ask the person to tell you about their home. Asking about their home validates their feelings, encourages them to share positive memories, and distracts them from their original goal of going home. Try asking open-ended questions that encourage them to share their thoughts, such as, “Your home sounds lovely, tell me more about it.” or, “What is your favorite room of the house?” After a while, guide the conversation to a neutral topic and then try to move to another activity that they enjoy.
This should help put you on the right track, but not everything you try will work the first time. And even if something works once, it might not work every time. Don’t be discouraged; the goal is to validate the person’s feelings, so that you can help move them out of a distressed moment into a more positive one.