I Want to Go Home

Dear Jo,

I recently placed my mother in an assisted living community.  It is really difficult to go and visit her, especially because when she sees me, she tells me she wants to go home.  I don’t know what to say or do.

Jo Says:

“I want to go home” is such a common phrase for a person with Alzheimer’s or related dementia that it has become a chapter title in almost every book about the disease.  In the very first of my Ten Absolutes, we can discover the remedy for this common desire. Absolute #1 says: Never Argue, Instead Agree.

It appears that when they are asking to “go home” it is really their way of saying they want to find a better place in time, in their mind.  After all, Alzheimer’s causes the sufferer to travel back in time to another part of their life.  So when Mom or Dad ask to go “home,” they may not mean the last place they lived.  They may mean their childhood home, or even a moment in time when they felt loved by their own parents.

Meanwhile, as the caregiver, all you can hear are your “guilt tapes.”  You think, I knew I shouldn’t have placed mom here!  She is unhappy – I must have made a mistake.  What am I going to do now? Regardless of your fears, what needs to happen now is that the two of you find a way to face this together.

The best way to do that is to tell the truth.  This is as simple as memorizing 3 little words, made up of 5 simple letters: “So do I.”  And it is, in fact, the truth when the subject of home arises.  As a caregiver, you probably want to go home, or back to a time when the parent-child dynamic was the way you’ve always known it.  Anything feels better than going through the pain and disagreement of dealing with this subject.  After you say “So do I,” you can then change the subject to a more enjoyable one. Go to her room or apartment and talk about her clothes and how pretty she looks in her favorite dress. Make visits as similar as possible to the kind you always had when she was home, and don’t forget to concentrate on enjoying time together.