Be ready when loved one asks to 'go home'
Anyone who is caring for someone afflicted with Alzheimer's or dementia has heard or inevitably will hear the patient say, "I want to go home!" Even if they've lived in the same residence for decades, patients have been known to go so far as to pack their bags and pile them at the front door, fully intending to leave. My father would constantly ask me, "Why can't I go home? My mother is going to be awfully worried about me." This is a perfect example of an opportunity and need for redirection. This will be a caregiver's best tool of defense. For example: I would assure my dad that everything was going to be OK. "I just talked to your mother an hour ago. She knows that you'll be spending the night here, so why don't you play some cards until dinner is ready?"Just go with the flow. Obviously, they're already confused. Try to avoid making matters any worse by allowing an argument to occur. Hearing "I want to go home" should be taken as forewarning that wandering may be in the near future. In a nonchalant fashion, pay close attention to your loved one until you feel confident he or she has moved on to fresh and more pleasant thoughts. I'm directing this advice to everyone who is involved in the care of the memory-impaired. This is a situation where patients can easily become lost and possibly seriously hurt. You also must keep in mind that the words "I want to go home" may mean something completely different to them than it does to you. The statement could mean they simply want things to go back to the way they used to be years ago. Some may find this a bit comical, but there is a nursing home in Germany that built an exact replica of a bus stop in front of their facility. Their average resident suffers from loss of short-term memory. But the long-term memory may still recall the colors of a bus sign. To them, waiting there means they're soon going home. The staff has been trained to gently approach the confused patients, informing them that the bus won't be along until later in the day and then they kindly invite them inside for a cup of coffee while they wait. Usually, by the time the cup is empty, the patients have completely forgotten what they were waiting for. If this keeps them from running off and getting hurt, I would call this well-intentioned ruse a success. The fact that patients are unable to recognize their own surroundings makes things extremely frightening for them. They will wish they were back in the comfort and safety of their own home, even if they already are. Once again, casual redirection of an Alzheimer's patient's thoughts is something every caregiver needs to master.
Gary Joseph LeBlanc was the primary caregiver of his father for a decade after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, "Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfulness," can be found at stayingafloatbook.com, Amazon or Barnes and Noble.