Alzheimer's Support Network


A family recently asked:  "What do I say to my mom when she says she wants to go home?  She has been living in the same home for 37 years.  She is home. 
And she wants to see her parents who have been dead for 20 years.   What do I do?"

This is a question that comes up all the time.  It is a common issue.  I hope the thoughts below will help.

What usually does not work is explaining the facts. “Mom, you are home. You have lived her for 37 years.”

The fact that she wants to see her parents who have been gone for 20 years tells you allot. It tells you that she is not living in the now. The term retrogenesis means the loss of mental abilities in the opposite order in which they are gained, or put simply: aging backwards. This article may or may not be helpful in providing a fuller explanation:

So, she is aging backwards. She doesn’t remember her parents have passed away. But it’s not just failure to remember their deaths, their funerals, and many events since, rather it’s likely she places herself in another point in time. Telling her that she is home and her parents have passed would make sense if her brain was functioning normally. She is telling you by her questions that these answers will not work for her.

What to say instead?

To get to that, we need to answer: Why is this happening? What is she really looking for? Home and parents are sources of security and comfort. Chances are this is what she is seeking. Home is not a place. It’s an idea in the past. It represents where she feel safe.

If this is why she is seeking home, then it’s not your job to explain to her that she is home, rather what she needs is for you to make her feel comfortable.

She says: “I want to go home.”

You say: “OK, let’s go.” Have you tried that?  “LET'S GO. But we need to pack up some of our favorite things so we’ll have them with us.” This presents on opportunity to focus her attention on some of her favorite things. “Oh look at this Mom! You gave me this when we were…” And then you are off reminiscing about the object, and the times in your life it represented. Best not to say: “Do you remember.” We know it’s hard for her to remember. Better to say: “This reminds me” or “I remember” and simply tell the story and let her interject if she wishes.

Principles here are:

#1. Don’t Argue “You are home” Instead, Agree: “OK, Let’s go”

#2. Distract and Divert: take her attention away from the “I want to go home” loop and divert it to something familiar and pleasing.

#3. Reminisce: her most recent memories fade first, and many of her longer term memories are available to her deep into the disease. As you test out reminiscence points, you can judge where she is in time. So, maybe that worked for a moment, and then she says:

She says: “I want to go home”

You say: “OK. Let’s Go.” Watch and see how she responds. “OK. Let’s Go, but it’s a long drive and we need to get a good night sleep first.” Or “I need to make sure that Dad (or some person she knows and loves at the moment) will be OK without us.” Or: "I need to make sure Dad will be there when we arrive.”

You are agreeing and delaying. And maybe that works for a moment.

And then she says: “I want to go home, and I want to go home now!”

You say: “OK, let me get my keys.” At this point, some families leave the house, get in the car, and drive around a little. And then either have an excuse to go back home: “I think I left the oven on.” Or more often, just getting out can break the “I want to go home” loop.  So you drive around and pull back into the driveway, and with lots of happiness and positive energy, exclaim: “I’m so glad were finally home!”

And maybe that works for a minute and she comes back in the house and says: “I want to go home.”

You can say: “I know. I do too.” She is making an emotional argument. You need to respond to the emotions, not the facts. “This is hard, Mom. We’ll get through it together.” Take her hand, comfort her. Maybe that works for a minute.

She says: “I want to go home.”

You say: “I know. So do I.” Look into her eyes. She is scared and unsure of herself. She might be unsure of who you are. She needs comfort, she needs to feel protected and safe, despite all you are already doing to protect her and keep her safe, she needs more. “Mom, can you help me.”

“Mom, I need your help.” If she knows you as her daughter, this can be very effective. And then divert and distract. “I need to you to help me find my purse.” Or “I need to fold these towels before we go.” Put some towels in the dryer. Make them warm and fluffy and soothing. Maybe she is back in time when she is a young mother and you are too old to be her daughter. What sort of duties and things would she be doing? What might be her pressing needs?

Then she says: “I want to go home.”

And you say: “OK. Can you give me a hug?”

Remember you are not in a logical battle, you are in a battle of emotions. And as long as she is saying she wants her parents and wants to go home, she is telling you she doesn’t feel safe.  She’s not secure.  What can be done to make her feel safe, secure, and right where she belongs?   Whatever that is, that is what you need to do.

(Article by Clarke Pollard - Alzheimer's Support Network)

Additional Resources:   Teepa Snow Talks about Wanting to Go Home: