Conversations about Going Home

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ASK DR. MINDY

MINDY KIM-MILLER, MD, PhD
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Question:

My mother is 85 years old and has dementia. She keeps asking me to take her to the house where she grew up. The house has been torn down, but she believes that the house has been rebuilt just for her. What am I am to say when she brings the house up? How do I have a conversation about the house without frustrating her?

–Yours in Caregiving, VP

Answer:

Dear VP,

Your situation with your mother, who wants to go home, is a tough but common one. People with Alzheimer’s disease often want to return to the home of their childhood. The strategies for dealing with this situation depend on the person’s stage and remaining abilities. I’ll present some general strategies for dealing with the challenging situation of a person wanting to go home. You will have to judge which strategies might work for your mother based on her history and stage of disease.
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  • Avoid correcting someone with dementia about home or trying to provide explanations for where she now resides. Trying to reason with or correct the person about the reality of the situation will likely only lead to frustration for both of you. Instead, provide reassurance. Reassure her that she is doing alright and that everything is fine.
  • Try to find out why the person wants to go home. Then try to address any issues or unmet needs. Is she looking for something that was in that house, or does she feel that something is wrong with her current environment?
  • Divert attention onto other activities. Be prepared to distract the person with, for example, listening to favorite music together, playing a simple card or board game, watching television, reading together, or looking at pictures or photos.
  • Try taking her for a walk or ride around a familiar neighborhood or to a familiar place, such as a store. Then return to the place where she now resides or to a place that might resemble her old home. This trip to familiar places might satisfy her desire for her old home.
  • Try asking the person to tell you “about home.” Talk about her home and then try to transition onto other topics.
  • Try reminiscing with the person about things she remembers. Early memories often remain intact until the late stages of the disease.
  • Be sure that many familiar and favorite objects are close by in the environment.
    • If you visit the person in a care facility, bring a familiar object to talk about during your visit, and leave it with the person.
  • Avoid greeting the person by asking, “How are you today?” Instead, say, “It’s so good to see you.” Bring a positive attitude with you.
  • Focus on positive topics and try to be uplifting. A sense of humor can be a great distraction and help overcome difficult situations.

There is an article on the LightBridge website called, “When Your Person Says ‘I Want to go Home’,” that may provide some more useful information: http://www.lightbridgehealthcare.com/1562.xml. I hope this information helps in some way.

Dr. Mindy Kim-Miller is a trained medical physician who provides useful, but general answers to questions provided by online visitors. While Dr. Mindy can not provide specific medical advice or services, we hope you find her responses useful in your personal education. All information is provided for informational and educational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you suspect you have an illness or disease, or a health related condition of any kind, seek professional medical care with an appropriate health care professional immediately. Do not postpone or delay seeking treatment or disregard professional advice based upon the general answers provided by Dr. Mindy. Dr. Mindy’s advice is not intended to substitute for a visit to your personal physician or other qualified health provider. Any specific medical concerns or questions you may have should be directed to your personal physician or other qualified health provider.

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