I want to go home
Living with dementia and the desire to ‘go home.’
Just like you and I, people with dementia enjoy the time of others and like to be listened to. They need to feel understood, and they want to feel accepted. Home can be thought of as our safe-haven, a place of conversation, acknowledgment, and love.
If we think about what home means to us, it’s the smell of coffee when we enter the kitchen or baked cookies from the oven. It’s the hung curtains made from the fabric we painstakingly chose, the fresh linen on our beds, the cat curled up in the corner of the room, a placed piece of pottery on the dresser, or the neatly filled pots that edge a perfectly mowed lawn. These things, and more, define home. Home is individual to us, and it’s a place of warmth, a place of safety that we share with our loved ones, and a place where memories are made.
The move from ‘home’ to a care home is understandably unsettling for all involved, and It’s not uncommon for residents of care homes to say that they ‘want to go home,’ but for a person with dementia, the term ‘home’ may describe something more than the place that they used to live. Often, when a person with dementia asks to go home, they can be referring to a sense of home, rather than home itself. Home could be somewhere they feel relaxed and happy, possibly the place that they used to live, but perhaps too, an undefinable place that exists only in their hearts. What a person with dementia feels is not always easily translated into words that we, their carers and loved ones, will easily understand.
It’s not uncommon to hear ‘ I want to go home’, ‘please take me home’, and ‘why are you doing this?’ These words are difficult to hear and are often followed with words of frustration that can include ‘I want my life back as I knew it’, ‘I want me back as I was’, ‘I want everything like it was’, or ‘I want all the pieces back in place.’ These are expected emotions of a person with dementia, but over time and as they settle into their new environment, feelings of confusion and anxiety often calm.
A person with dementia has a disease of the brain. Like you and I, they see, and they remember, but how they piece old memories, thoughts, and new learns together in their mind can often get muddled. They might see you, like you, or not like you based on the way that you behave, irrespective of who you are and what your relationship is to them.
A visiting husband, for example, might be perceived as ‘that nice man who comes to church,’ or the person with dementia might think that their husband is twenty-years-old, that they too are twenty-years-old, and that together they currently have a two-year-old child. As the disease progresses, those with dementia can want to be young again, believing that they are, and confusing the past with the present. They can want to go back to the house in which they were raised or crave the presence of the people who raised them.
Here, at Leaf Dementia Villages, if a resident with dementia is particularly distressed, we must consider whether they might be tired, hungry, thirsty or unwell, or perhaps overwhelmed with feelings of unhappiness or loneliness. The team at Leaf Dementia Villages provide regular reassurance to our residents. We encourage exercise and exposure to natural daylight during the day—which promotes good sleep at night—and an individual’s medication is regularly reviewed.
We help meet the changing needs of a person with dementia by providing routine to visits and mealtimes, and we place emphasis on the importance of recreating familiar surroundings such as the layout of their bedroom, the preparing of food together in our kitchen and sitting down at our kitchen table with others for cups of tea and dinner.
There is no denying that dementia can, over time, rob you of the person that you knew, but experience teaches us that by avoiding confrontation, providing reassurance of their safety, showing empathy, and sometimes diverting conversations, we can help our loved ones to feel safe, valued and understood.