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My 87 y.o. father recently chose to move from his senior apartment into a small room in a retirement home on the same street. When he did so, the generally minor memory problems that he has been exhibiting for the past couple of years grew into a larger confusion. Clearly his issues are deeper than we knew. He now doesn't really believe the place he is living in is his and he often says he wants to go "home," not to his previous apartment, but to either the town where he spent most of his working life or the town where he went to college.


My question here is this - does anyone have experience with this sort of thing and if so, is it a good or bad idea for us to take him on day or weekend trips to these locations that he so fondly remembers and wants to return to? My brother and I, who live in other states but try to visit him for a few days once a month, would like to take him to visit these places that meant so much to him, but I fear that such visits may only intensify his confusion or unhappiness with his current situation when we return to the retirement home and then lead to him trying to find a way out of there.


Am I overthinking it? Should we just take him to these places that he loves to make him happy and not worry that it'll just make things worse?


Thank you for your thoughts.

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Imho, your foresight is no doubt quite accurate. To anyone with dementia, familiarity is key. "To go home" is a mantra of many elders, e.g. it could typify their childhood home, the home of the relative whom they used to visit, etc. It is best for him not to travel.
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Maaluu Aug 11, 2020
Thank you for your thoughts.
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I have had experience in this and while a day trip can prove to be helpful, however, your wits will be challenged. I would speak with his doctor to make sure it is in his best interest.
In my opinion, I don't think you should. It is an adventure that can turn out to be a pandora box. My dad was like a child. He would wander off, he would become agitated when it was time to leave.
BEST of luck
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Maaluu Aug 11, 2020
Thank you for sharing your experience with your dad. That's the sort of thing I'm worried about.
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The best advice you can get is this: don't apply YOUR rules of normalcy to dementia/Alzheimer's where there IS no normalcy. Your father wanting to 'go home' is very commonplace with dementia/ALZ, and really means he is seeking comfort or familiarity of some kind. Taking him to his childhood home is never a good idea because then what?? He may not want to leave. He may insist on staying, or God knows what. Don't assume it will 'make him happy' to take him on such a trip, it may agitate him like you can't imagine. And then what?

What you want to do is keep things as routine as possible with your father. Change is what confuses them; disrupts their minds even more so than usual, and creates agitation and mayhem. You'll need to take over the decision making for him so he's unable to move again when and if the mood strikes. Moving around is a bad thing and only adds to the terrible confusion already going on in his head. It really sounds like what he needs is a Memory Care environment rather than a room in a retirement home, especially if he isn't monitored and has access to the outside world. If he can leave and walk the street, he may just do so and then the big troubles can start. He needs a safe place where he can't get out or cook or have access to cleaning supplies, etc, where he can hurt himself by not understanding present dangers.

Instead of thinking about taking him back to his childhood home, start thinking about where he'd be best off, safety wise, and look into placement asap. Dementia/ALZ only worsens with time and it's a good idea to have him situated in a safe place before the big troubles set in, you know? I don't know if the 'retirement home' he's in now has a memory care section, but that would be a great place to start if they do.

GOOD LUCK!
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Maaluu Aug 11, 2020
Thank you for your thoughts, Lealonnie. I have started researching assisted living and memory care facilities and we'll see where that leads.
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I would not take him out on any trips.  We brought by FIL back to the family farm once only a couple of months after moving him.  He was scared and confused and knew no one.  When my husband and his sister took him back he finally relaxed.  going forward we only visited him there.
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Maaluu Aug 11, 2020
Thank you for sharing your experience, Ellens.
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I wouldn't recommend a weekend trip, or any excursion over 2 hours at most.

My husband's grandmother had dementia and was in memory care. Grandmother's daughter thought day trips would be a fun thing to do. Unfortunately, this backfired. Grandmother thought she had gone out of town, or that she was moving away. When she'd come back to her room, she'd be disoriented about where her bathroom was, what town she was in, etc. Even taking her to lunch and back became too disorienting. It's so important for such elders to be in a routine as much as possible. You mean well, but this does more harm than good.

Going by places he used to be, but can no longer go to, may not be a great idea. Sometimes elders get reminded of the 'old days', and it makes them sad to know they can't go back and realize what shape they're in now. He may not understand why you're driving him by there but not letting him go inside.
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Maaluu Aug 11, 2020
Thanks, Loopy. I appreciate your thoughts.
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Familiarity is key at this stage. However, if there are places he remembers and wants to visit - try it. Make it short trip with no overnight, if possible, to see how it goes. The mind goes in reverse losing more current memory, so he may still have very vivid memories of long ago.
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Maaluu Aug 11, 2020
A day trip is a possibility. We'll have to see. Thanks for your thoughts.
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It also depends on whether it's "just memory issues" or a more advanced dementia. Taking him out of familiar territory, even though it would be taking him back to a place he once knew well, could be too disorienting. I would also worry about the journey. My father-in-law was convinced that his family had kidnapped him, when it was simply an out-of-state visit to other family. He simply could not remember the purpose of the trip. A night in a hotel was a disaster. A short drive (day trip) to a pretty place that would spur memories is a good suggestion, as are the others.
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Maaluu Aug 11, 2020
I guess the depth of his issues really is the question at this point. I'll have to see how he's doing when the current state of affairs allows for safer travel.
Thank you for your thoughts.
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Taking him out to drive around may be more beneficial than going to his old stomping grounds. Look at fall foliage. Drive through a neighborhood and count flags or maple trees or anything recognizable. You could park alongside a golf course and watch the players. Go to a dog park if he likes dogs, and watch. Talk about dogs he owned, or golf courses he played etc. Drive around a local college campus and talk about his college days. Essentially, drive to anyplace that is like a place in his past and talk about his similar experience. A church, a factory, an office building . Wander around in a local hardware store (not like Lowes or Home Depot, a small one).
This will open opportunity to learn some of his old stories, let him reminisce but not make him face drastic changes to places he recalls.
Best of luck to you.
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Maaluu Aug 11, 2020
Love these ideas. Thank you.
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Usually when they say they want to go home - they do not mean that location as it is today - they are talking about a location but as it was when they were younger. Taking them there today probably would add to confusion. But in case he just wants to visit once more to remember happy times - try taking him someplace close. See how he does. If OK then you can try for longer distance/days.
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Maaluu Aug 11, 2020
Good idea. That sounds like a wise way to start. Thank you.
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You could consider taking him on a shorter trip to see how well he does. Then if you go to visit one of his favorite places and he doesn't respond favorably (or doesn't recognize it as such), then you'll have your answer that it is a waste of time and just confuses him. If he responds favorably, then you can consider some other places.
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Maaluu Aug 11, 2020
Thank you. I will consider the shorter trip idea if I can think of a place he might want to visit. That's harder to deduce these days!
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Share pictures from those happy times and let him reminisce. Those times are long gone but he can still enjoy telling stories from then.
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Maaluu Aug 11, 2020
Thank you for this good idea, Taarna.
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This is pretty much universal behaviour for dementia, and no, taking him to the place, or trying to explain he is at his home, will not help.
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Maaluu Aug 11, 2020
Thank you for your thoughts.
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Yes dementia patients always want to go home even though they are home. My 93 yo mother talks about going home ..but she’s in her house...she wants to go back to the one she grew up in ....
hugs 🤗
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Maaluu Aug 11, 2020
My dad hasn't expressed that desire yet; I'm sure it's on the horizon somewhere! Thank you for your reply.
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Change is very difficult for dementia patients and can cause increased confusion and symptoms. Sometimes it is temporary and other times it is the new normal.

Has he been checked for a urinary tract infection? These can cause dementia symptoms and other distressing symptoms in seniors. Moving could have caused him to forget to take care of himself and he may very well benefit from a complete physical to rule out any medical conditions that he may be experiencing.

I encourage you to do enrichment activities with him, but avoid the places he is obsessing on, it could escalate the situation for multiple reasons. Do things that are fun and pleasurable in the moment to help him feel happiness. Create memories for yourselves with him.
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Maaluu Aug 6, 2020
Thank you for your advice. He has a physical coming up so we'll see what comes out of that. He hasn't complained of any physical issues, but then again, he might not. The consensus does seem to be to avoid the places he's obsessing about. I appreciate your input.
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There’s at least a 50-50 that he won’t remember trips as what he’s looking for when he sees them, and if he actually DOES remember, there’s a risk that he’ll want to stay, and become more upset when you try to take him back to where he’s actually living now.
I still regret, 20 years later taking my mom past her old home for just one look. I could read the flash of memories on her face, a momentary joy for both of us, then driving away, the joy being replaced by the resignation that it would never again be hers.
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Maaluu Aug 6, 2020
Yes, that's what I am worried about. Sorry to hear that you had that experience with your mother. Thank you for your thoughts.
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It might be helpful to have him evaluated N.Y. a neuropsychologist for some more detailed testing to get a diagnosis. We took my FIL and told him it was to see if anything could be done to help his memory. My MIL had clear Alzheimer’s but he often seemed fine. In his case, he had it mostly for ADLs. But his higher level executive functions were impaired. Judgement, decision making were impaired. I read about types of dementia and felt he had vascular dementia.

taking him out for trips while he can still enjoy things is nice idea but he won’t remember or recognize the old places because he remembers how they were, not as they are now. Plus, any kind of traveling now is risky.
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Maaluu Aug 6, 2020
Thank you for your suggestions. I do think a neuropsychologist may be the next step. And vascular dementia is the doctor's best guess in this case too.
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Maaluu, are you saying your dad is in AL? or IL in a care community? If he's in IL he should be assessed to see if this level of independence is still appropriate for him. Same with AL...you can request more services and hopefully he is not a wandering risk. I think taking him out for day trips is wonderful, but not to placate his desire for something that no longer exists. Time with family and engaging in activities while he still can would be good for everyone, just have tempered expectations about his reactions and energy levels. He is changing (as you well know)...it would be really good for you to educate yourself about whatever his cognitive diagnosis is so that you can better interact with him and it will less stressful for you. THere are many good videos on YouTube (Teepa Snow) and books on this topic. I wish you all the best!
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Maaluu Aug 5, 2020
Hi, Geaton. My father is not in AL but rather IL in a home with other seniors that provides meals, cleaning, and laundry. No medical services. He's kind of at an in-between stage in that he clearly has memory/cognitive issues but most of the time he is with it and he can definitely care for himself and is physically active. He's not at the wandering stage; if he leaves, it's going to be because it was his intention to do so (which is one of my worries). His doctor recently gave him what I think was an "entry level" memory test in my presence and he basically aced it. I do need to follow up with the doctor to figure out what next steps may be. Thank you for your advice. Much appreciated.
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Taking him "home" will never satisfy him because the home in his mind doesn't exist the way he remembers it and the people he thinks he'll see there will either be unrecognizable (because they've aged since 1950) or are long gone. Enter his reality as much as possible - put together an album of pictures so you can reminisce with him, ask him to tell you stories about those places and people and why they mean so much to him.
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Maaluu Aug 5, 2020
Good idea about the photos. I have been asking him for stories about his life and he definitely enjoys talking about his past, but I haven't pulled out the pictures to see what may be there. Thank you!
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