When a Parent in the Nursing Home Says "I Just Want To Go Home."

"I want to go home." Nearly any person caring for an elder with dementia has heard this heartbreaking plea, even if the elder is home. It's fairly well accepted by dementia experts that the "home" most elders want to return to is their childhood home, because in later stages of Alzheimer's that is where, in their minds, "home" is.

The same is true when you hear an aged woman with dementia calling over and over, "Mama! Mama!" This woman is a young child in her brain, and she's calling for her young mother. Not every aging person who enters a nursing home or assisted living has dementia. And not every case of dementia is the same.

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My parents each had different forms of dementia, but fortunately, they didn't ask to go home. However, since I was a daily visitor to their care center, I heard the plea from many others. I didn't even know some of the people, but it was a heartbreaker just the same. Most of the people wanting to "go home" had Alzheimer's disease.

A reader on the Agingcare.com forum wrote: "My father with Alzheimer's has been in a nursing home for nearly 3 months, but he thinks it is temporary and that he will be moving out and back in with family. How do I tell him the truth?" As I mentioned above, while he seems to be saying he wants to go back and live with the family, if his Alzheimer's is in one of the later stages, he likely, even if they moved him back, wouldn't feel as though he were home. It's quite probable he'd be agitated by one more move and would still not be "home." But that doesn't make the heartbreaking routine any easier. Caregivers and staff can say repeatedly and gently, "This is your home."

That's okay. But it likely won't help a whole lot. If the person is upset by hearing that, drop it. Arguing will only make the situation worse. This is when caregivers need to take a deep breath and accept that they will continually hear this plea. Expect it. Absorb it. And plan ahead. Then, start the "distraction and redirection" routine.

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Over the span of two decades, author, columnist, consultant and speaker Carol Bradley Bursack cared for a neighbor and six elderly family members. Her experiences inspired her to pen, "Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories," a portable support group book for caregivers.

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