By: Katie Neason, AutumnGrove’s Development Officer
The most common questions I hear from residents with dementia revolves around their home, such as “where is my home?”, “why am I here?”, “I want to go home”. As a family member it can be heart wrenching. Especially if you recently made the tough decision to move them to a new place such as an assisted living. Your assumption is that they do not like where they are at and would be happy if they were back at their old house or living with you at your house. The place they are currently living is unfamiliar and brings with it a level of confusion or fear. Rather than trying to convince them they are at home, try to help them understand it is temporary.
I love visiting with my Memaw who suffers from Alzheimer’s, but the toughest time of our visit is when she becomes confused about where she is at and why I would leave her in this unfamiliar place “by herself”. Now, I work for AutumnGrove, a place that takes care of people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, I read books on the subject, I consult with our amazing managers and social workers about how to respond, and even though I think I know the right words to say, emotionally it doesn’t make it easier. The reality is that I want to remove the confusion and provide clarity for her. Unfortunately that is beyond our capability, but what we can bring is a sense of peace for them in that moment. When answering their questions about home try focusing on the temporariness such as, “I am headed to work but will be back this afternoon and then we can go home.” “You will only be here a couple of days. If you do not like it we can go back to your old house.” Or when they say, “I need to go home” you can respond, “let’s go”. Start walking. When the question passes, sit on the back porch and visit. Or take them to a general room with other residents and visit so they do not feel alone. Go for a walk and end up back in their room and turn on old reruns of familiar shows, such as “I Love Lucy”, to provide something familiar or comfortable. You can tell them you are going to be out of town and didn’t want them to be home alone tonight, so you have asked your good friend to look after them. Try providing a purpose for them being there, such as, “we can go home in a little bit, but right now we are volunteering to help out here. They need your help wiping down tables or folding clothes. Do you mind helping out today?” My Memaw has always been a hard worker. She worked a couple of jobs and had a business venture on the side most of her life. For her, she would be more motivated by telling her she is at work and that I will pick her up after work. Until then she needs to fold clothes, sweep, or clean up in the kitchen. Knowing your loved one’s habits or preferences can help you tailor your responses.
As a loving family member, these questions can bring guilt or make you second-guess your decision to move your mother, father, sister or brother to a new environment. The answers may make you feel like you are lying or deceiving them. What has given me comfort in these situations is understanding that I am capable of changing the reality I live in and the social norms I am accustomed to, but my loved one with Alzheimer’s is not. You have to adjust your reality to live in theirs. What they are seeking is comfort and understanding so do whatever you can to provide that. And realize the “home” they are looking for is not a physical place, but rather a place in time where their surroundings were familiar, they understood their role and purpose in life, and they recognized the faces that surrounded them. You cannot provide them with what they are seeking by taking them to your house or the last place they lived, but you can help give them security and comfort by seeking ways to live in their reality.