Responding When a Person With Dementia Wants to Go Home

People with Alzheimer's disease or other types of dementia will often say they want to "go home." Family members and caregiving staff in nursing homes and assisted living facilities hear this question often. It can be hard to know the best way to answer it.

This article offers some suggestions for how to respond when a person with Alzheimer's disease says they want to go home.

Woman with dementia wishing she could go home
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What "Home" Means

People with Alzheimer's disease may say they want to go home even when they are already in their homes. This desire to "go home" may be related to feelings of insecurity, anxiety, or depression.

Alzheimer's disease initially affects short-term memory. "Home," then, could be a reference to long-term memories of times and places where the person felt secure. They could be thinking of a childhood home that no longer exists.

"Home" might also be a longing for something familiar. Memory loss can make people with Alzheimer's feel like nothing is familiar anymore. For this reason, they may connect "home" with a sense of familiarity and belonging. They may long for the intimacy of family life.

"Home" in this context probably doesn't mean the place where the person currently lives, or lived prior to moving to a care facility. Instead, it may mean a place in the past where they felt secure and happy.

This is likely what your loved one is expressing. "Home" may be a desire to reconnect with childhood. For many people, that is the time of life that provided the most security, intimacy, and comfort.

Recap

Memory loss can make Alzheimer's patients feel like nothing is familiar anymore. This may be why they express a desire to "go home." Home in this context could just mean they want to be somewhere familiar and comforting.

Reminiscing Can Provide Comfort 

The next time your loved one talks about going "home," remember that it may be a reference to the past. Try to respond with some questions of your own. For example, you can ask about your loved one's childhood memories, or you can look at old family photographs together. Reminiscing about childhood and the home where the person grew up can be comforting.

You might also try using validation therapy. With this approach, you validate your loved one's experiences and emotions by asking questions that help them process their feelings. This can help your loved one work through the loss of their sense of comfort. Some questions could include:

  • What was your childhood house like?
  • Do you miss it?
  • What was the best thing about your family?
  • What was your favorite home-cooked food?
  • How did the kitchen smell?
  • Did you share a bedroom with your siblings?

Try echoing your loved one's feelings. For example, you could say, "You must wish you could be at home right now." This can help the person feel like you understand what they're feeling. That can be very comforting.

Summary

Alzheimer's patients often say they want to "go home," even if they are already at home. This may be an expression of their feelings of insecurity. They may long for a more comforting time, such as their childhood.

You can help your loved one process these emotions by asking them to talk about childhood memories. It can also help to validate the way they are feeling by telling them you understand whey they might want to go home.

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2 Sources
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  1. Nakatsuka M, Meguro K, Tsuboi H, Nakamura K, Akanuma K, Yamaguchi S. Content of delusional thoughts in Alzheimer's disease and assessment of content-specific brain dysfunctions with BEHAVE-AD-FW and SPECT. Int Psychogeriatr. 2013;25(6):939-48. doi:10.1017/S1041610213000094

  2. Validation Training Institute. What is validation?.