How to Handle “I Want to go Home”

What do you do when your loved-one lives in a memory care community and constantly demands that you take him “home”?

Logically, you know it’s not your fault he has dementia, but you feel guilty anyway. Every plea of “Get me out of this place!” is a stab to your heart. I know. It’s sad, and it sucks, and you want to fix it.

Remember, the decision to place him in memory care wasn’t made lightly. Several people were involved in the process, and the consensus was that it was necessary for his safety and long-term care.

It comes down to this: Taking him “home” is not an option. If it were, he’d be there now.

Eventually, he may accept this new place as “home,” and his heart-wrenching requests will end on their own. On the other hand, he may never accept /understand it, and “Get me out of this place!” could be his standard greeting every time you talk with him from now on.

So, what do you do?

The best advice is to try to “redirect” him. Basically, you acknowledge and respect what he’s saying but distract him by changing his focus strategically and quickly. You know it’s coming, so be prepared with some ideas.

Another approach is to make up a story. One of the standbys for the “I want to go home” scenarios is that “There’s a gas leak in the neighborhood, and no one’s allowed back until it’s fixed.” The theory is that this story buys some time and puts off the discussion “until the gas leak is fixed.”

Honestly, this approach almost never worked with my dad. He’d either see right through it, OR it would make him even more determined to go home, because he’d be convinced he had to be the one to go and repair the leak.

Whatever you do, do not try to explain (for the 100th time) why he can’t go home – that the doctors said this, that or the other thing. Do not ask him what he wants to do there at home – and then try to convince him that he doesn’t need to worry about that because you’ve taken care of it.

I promise you, no matter what you say and no matter how logically you say it, you will not talk him out of wanting to go home. The best you can hope for is that you might be able to distract him from focusing on it.

When it comes down to it, you just have to be patient and understanding.

If you think about it, it’s perfectly reasonable for him to want to go home. In his mind, “home” is a place where he didn’t have dementia, where he had independence, and where he could manage life on his own terms. So, of course he wants to go home!

Unfortunately, you don’t have the power to give him what he wants. The best you can do is give him what he needs – which is to be well cared for and safe.

This dairy farm in Iowa was my dad's home until he enlisted in the Marines.

This dairy farm in Iowa was my dad’s home until he enlisted in the Marines.

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Crying is Good For You

Dementia will bring you to tears.

The good news? Tears are good for you.

“Being strong” is part of your job description when you have a loved-one with dementia. But dementia is a long, hard journey, and tears come with the territory no matter how strong you are.

A while back, I stumbled across an article on the internet called “7Good Reasons to Cry Your Eyes Out” by Therese Borchard. It says tears “are like a natural therapy or massage session, but they cost a lot less!”

The writer explains that crying releases toxins from the body and also stimulates the production of endorphins, our natural “feel good” hormones. The article gives credence to the old adage that you’ll feel better after a good cry.

In another online article called “The Miracle of Tears,” writer Jerry Bergman reports that “Suppressing tears increases stress levels, and contributes to diseases aggravated by stress, such as high blood pressure, heart problems, and peptic ulcers.”

In other words, if you don’t let those emotional tears flow every now and then, you increase your risk for all sorts of health problems.

So, although I don’t recommend opening the floodgates in front of the person with dementia (He is confused and generally feeling bad enough already!), don’t hold back the tears forever.

If your loved-one lives in a memory care community, I guarantee you the staff there is used to tears and won’t be at all shocked if you “fall apart” in front of them. They may even shed a few tears right along with you.

Otherwise, find a friend or just a private place where you feel safe to let the tears flow. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I collapsed sobbing in my car after visits with my dad.

During my “breakdowns,” I doubted I could survive another day of my dad’s dementia. But I did survive. And it turns out that allowing those moments of “weakness” actually helped give me strength to endure.

“What soap is for the body, tears are for the soul.” – Jewish Proverb

My dad went through some tough times in his life. He always did what needed to be done, made sure everyone else was taken care of . . . He was as strong as they get, but even he shed a tear or two in its time.

My dad went through some tough times in his life. He always did what needed to be done, made sure everyone else was taken care of . . . He was as strong as they get, but even he shed a tear or two in its time.

What Do You Say To Someone With Dementia?

When someone has dementia or any serious illness, there’s a tendency to avoid him – not because we don’t care but because we don’t know what to say. We’re afraid we might make it worse by saying or doing the wrong thing.

It’s true that it can be a guessing game anticipating how a person with dementia will respond to you or how he’ll interpret what you say. But don’t let fear stop you from sharing your concern and affection. If your effort isn’t well received, you can try something different next time.

I’ve seen this poem on several websites but haven’t been able to discover who wrote it; the credit always just says “Author unknown.”

A Poem

Do not ask me to remember.

Don’t try to make me understand.

Let me rest and know you’re with me.

Kiss my cheek and hold my hand.

I’m confused beyond your concept.

I am sad and sick and lost.

All I know is that I need you.

To be with me at all cost.

Do not lose your patience with me.

Do not scold or curse or cry.

I can’t help the way I’m acting.

Can’t be different ‘though I try.

Just remember that I need you,

That the best part of me is gone.

Please don’t fail to stand beside me,

Love me ’til my life is done.

– Author unknown

Beautiful, isn’t it!

But even with this in mind, the question remains: What do you say?

It’s awkward and uncomfortable. How do you get past that?

I used to spend a few minutes praying in my car before going in to visit my dad. I’d say something like:

“Lord, I don’t want to go in there. This is hard. I don’t know what to do or what to say. I need your help. Give me patience. Let your loving kindness and your words flow through me. Give me strength to do the right thing.”

For me, prayer is always a good place to start. I’m curious though; how do you get past that fear and awkwardness so you can “be there” for the people you care about? What helps and inspires you in those emotionally difficult situations?

My daughter and dad at Big Trees State Park

What’s the Difference between Assisted Living and a Nursing Home?

Basically, there are two different types of care-homes for seniors who are not able to live on their own anymore: “Skilled Nursing Facility” and “Residential Care Facility for the Elderly.”

It’s a little confusing though, because, in addition to these “official” names, there are many “common” names for each option. On top of that, people  tend to use the names interchangeably – confusing matters even more.

Skilled Nursing Facilities are for people who require 24-hour nursing or medical care and supervision. These days, they are primarily for rehabilitation: For example after a stroke or a broken hip.

Some of the more common names for Skilled Nursing Facilities are:

  • nursing homes
  • convalescent homes
  • rest homes

Although some people with dementia require 24-hour supervision, that need is not considered “medical,” so dementia alone does not qualify someone for nursing-home care.

Nursing homes aren’t usually equipped to handle dementia-specific issues like wandering.

A Residential Care Facility for the Elderly (RCFE) is the more common option for long-term care for someone with dementia. RCFEs are also called:

  • assisted living (usually the big, apartment-like setting)
  • board and care (a smaller setting or private home)
  • memory care (dementia-specific)

Although some RCFE communities have a nurse on staff, they are not a medical setting. They provide care and supervision. Their services include meals, socialization, and assistance with the “activities of daily living” (ADL): Dressing, personal hygiene and medication management.

Some assisted living communities specialize in dementia care. Some have a designated area for residents with dementia. Some are not set up for dementia at all.

As far as the cost goes, Medicare and other health insurance plans pay for some skilled nursing (all sorts of rules and restrictions, of course) but not for assisted living.

There are organizations that can help you sort through all the options and find the right placement for your loved-one. Their help is free; my understanding is that they get paid with a finder’s fee from the care-facilities. Senior Care Solutions is one I’ve worked with (and was very happy with) in the Sacramento area: www.seniorcs.com.

* Disclaimer: I live in California. The terminology may be different elsewhere. If so, please share; I’d love know how things work where you live.

My dad with his mom when she was in a nursing home after she'd had a stroke (sometime in the 1990s).

My dad with his mom when she was in a nursing home after she’d had a stroke (sometime in the 1990s).