When Someone With Dementia Says, "I Want to Go Home"


Last updated: March 12, 2009
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Image by terren in Virginia used under the creative commons attribution license.

One of the hardest things to hear someone with Alzheimer's or another dementia say is, "I want to go home."

I used to dread the moment near the end of a visit with my Gram (who had Alzheimer's) when she'd perk up from a semi-stupor in which she no longer recognized me: "Where's my purse? Have we paid yet? Let's go home." Briefly, she sounded almost like her jolly old self.

No matter how long I was there, or what we did, it ended like a perpetual restaurant outing. Except of course that she lived at this "restaurant."

I've since learned that "I want to go home" isn't usually meant literally by someone with moderate or late-stage Alzheimer's, nor should it be taken that way. Some things I've learned:

  • Don't argue, "But you are home!" For one thing, the "home" being spoken of may not be the same place you're thinking of. When my father refers to "going home pretty soon," for example, we've learned that he doesn't mean the house where he lives now or the town where he lived for 40+ years. He's referring to far-away Upper Michigan, his birthplace, where he hasn't lived since college. His long-term memory and emotions have conspired to have made that place the representation of a feeling of deep security.

Arguing with someone with dementia, as you already know, is counterproductive.

  • Hear "home" as a feeling you need to read. When people with mid- or late-stage dementia who live in a facility or are hospitalized say, "I want to go home," what they're really saying is, "I'm uneasy," or "I'm scared." To all of us, the very concept of home is a mood that's soothing, familiar, and safe. Doesn't matter whether the "home" in the person's head is a childhood home, the home where they raised their family, or the place they live now "“ or all of them co-mingled as a just particular, satisfying kind of feeling, rather than a place.

  • Don't be overly distressed. Hearing "I want to go home" can provoke lots of emotions in family members: Worry that "she hates it here." Guilt at having placed her there. But remember that by mid-stage Alzheimer's, the person is not very capable of manipulating you, if for no other reason than within a short time she will have forgotten what she said (unless you provoke and prolong by arguing over the geography of home).

  • Go along to get along. I always think of this adage coined by the wonderful consultant Joanne Koenig-Coste, who's now working with us at [Caring.com] (http://www.caring.com/) : "A fib-let is better than a tablet." Too often, the person is told, "This is your home now," and their underlying emotional need goes unaddressed. The person grows more distressed -- and then is often medicated to calm down.

Better: Give a hug. Meet that emotional need (fear, uncertainty). Be positive, not negative: "The weather's too bad to go out now, maybe later." Or, "Why don't we listen to some music first?" Shift the attention to a happier ending.

With my Gram, we finally learned to get her engaged in dinner or we'd ask one of the aides who took a special shine to her to distract her. We learned not to make a big deal of seeming to leave "the restaurant" without her.

I try to keep in mind the more-true-than-I-knew adage, Home is where the heart is.

Does knowing this make hearing "I want to go home" any easier? I hope so.

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30 Comments So Far. Add Your Wisdom.

8 months ago

My heart aches or annon., where the sister kidnapped her dad who was still a capable person. I would advise her to get another lawyer and one who is willing to get to work immediately. Sue the sister for guardianship and make sure you have proof of what she has been doing. But we were talking about "I want to go home." When my MIL was in a home and expressed that desire I would tell her she was still under the doctor's care and when she was all better he would release her to go home. She was all satisfied with than answer and smiled because she has always trusted doctors.


8 months ago

I was able to care for my wife at home when she came down with Alzheimer's. In the early stages she would wander until I was told to put keyed deadbolts on the exterior doors. I would turn around and she was wondering down the street. I asked her where she was going and she would say she was going home. When I told her this was her home that we had lived there 40 years she would say that is your home not mine. I used to drive her to the places she lived as she grew up and talk to her. After a time of doing this daily she agreed she lived with me. I think Alzheimer's is one of the worst disease out there for all parties involved. I miss and love my wife so much and want to be with her for all eternity.


8 months ago

Wonderful article. Very appropriate for the stage we are going through right now. Thank you again for your help and support. PJ


about 2 years ago

I forgot to mention yesterday that my wife had AD. When she said she wanted to go home she used to say this is your house not mine so I knew it related to her present living space. Annromick's post is good.Some believe that our souls return to earth several times in a new life. If so we must retain some memory of a past life.


about 2 years ago

To Annonymous: Having four members of my familty who had/have AD, all of them have asked to go home. My friend, Paula, lost her husband to the diseae and told of his calling out to go home. She believed he yearned to return to his spiritual home and God. My husband Ken, with whom I still live and care for, wanted to return to his boyhood home where he grew up. His father just wanted us to take him to his home where he was comfortable and safe. Ken's mom wanted to go home when she was better. All of us hope we have a spiritual home waiting for us at the end of life. Wordsworth couldn't have agreed with you more in a verse from "Intimation of Immortality." "Our life is but a sleep, and a forgetting: The soul that rises with us, our life's star, Hath had elsewhere its setting, And cometh from afar; Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come, From God who is our home." I do hope you can take some comfort from these words.


about 2 years ago

When my wife was alive and said she wanted to go home she didn't live here. I used to take her for a ride and show her where she grew up and said you see this is where you used to live but do not live here anymore. I kept showing her pictures taken over the years with her in them. I then would say you still live here and then let her look into a mirror. It worked for us because she would say this is my house and I love it here.


over 2 years ago

Hello linda sharpe, Thank you very much for your comment. I'm sorry to hear about your situation. Here are a few Ask & Answer pages that you may find helpful: (http://www.caring.com/questions/alzheimers-asking-dead-relatives-answer) and (http://www.caring.com/questions/my-mother-in-law-has-alzheimers-dementia-her-memory-is). Take care -- Emily | Community Manager


over 2 years ago

I am in a situation where dad died 30 years ago, she is looking for him and says he is alive and they fought and he left. she has lived with me for 16 years but each day she says she is visiting and has only been here 1-2 days. She is also calling us her kids by her sibling names she is only sibling still alive???


Anonymous said almost 3 years ago

I want to go home..............isn't about dementia or alzheimers...........it is the soul wanting to returnt o the souce. Tired of all the BS the rest of you yuppies, preppies and 'go about being normal, in the matrix, blind sheeple" accept as "normal'. Wake TFU............We are a spiritual being having a physical experience. Not a phical being having a physical experience. You've taken the blue pill and have chosen to remain asleep allowing a corrupt (now world) government to control, monitor and analyse your every movement. I want to go home.............away from this tyranny is the cry of a freeman/woman but your're so wrapped up in you daily distraction, being dumbed down and deuinfied you don't see the NWO train coming. Like dumb cattle awaiting slaughter.


almost 3 years ago

I have really enjoyed reading the articles that Caring.com provides. I am the oldest of 3 and now my mother's guardian. She has been in a nursing home facility for the past 6 months. I am planning on taking her home (between her house and mine) for June and July; see how it goes.


almost 3 years ago

Indeed, the concept of "home" is clearly a "safe place" where, by magic, the person with dementia will finally remember everything, find everyone he/she loves (including the deceased...), and where they can finally catch up... The place sometimes is described as the birth place, early age house or a mixture of several locations. We noticed that time and space became totally relative for them. Yesterday represents years ago, whereas months ago can sometimes look like yesterday... Thank you so much for this inspiring article.


almost 3 years ago

Hi sandikat, Thanks for sharing your experience with the community! Sorry to hear you are having trouble finding things for your mother to do. There are many great activities for dementia and Alzheimer's patients. You can learn more about them in our topic center, here: ( http://www.caring.com/activities-for-alzheimers ). I hope that helps, take care. -- Emily | Community Manager


almost 3 years ago

For my Mom, she does know what she means when she says "I want to go home". I sat down and listened not long ago, and asked her which home do you mean, and she said "the house that I own" "the one you and I and my husband lived in". She does still own that house, but I will have to sell it shortly to pay for her care. I kept it as long as possible because I think that is the only thing that kept her going was the hope that she could return there, but I now know it can never happen. She can't afford full time help in home, or the cost of making the upgrades to make it safe and handi-capped assessable. I think in her mind that if she returns there, she will go back to who she was then, but that isn't the case. She blames every facility with her problems, yet she is there because of her problems, they aren't the problem. She just can't see it that way. I usually play games with her, but the dementia is progressing, and I'm not sure how long she can play them, so I'm wondering what I can do during a visit to make it happy when all she does it ask if she can come home with me, or when am I taking her home. I used to work puzzles with her, or ask if we could watch a movie, but she started refusing to do that. She has tried to escape many times, and that is why she is now in a memory care facility with locked gates. I would like to take her out on a walk or something, but I don't think that is a safe thing to do yet under the circumstances. The last facility she was at last (an assisted living facility), she escaped, and she fought the police when they tried to take her back through the door, so I can't put myself in that position. Any ideas of a positive activity on my visits for someone like that? I think part of her lack of interest in everything is depression (which is understandable)--I can see it in her eyes and long face, but she refuses to take any pills, or use her oxygen.... so there doesn't seem to be much I can do. This is the part I am really struggling to understand.


about 3 years ago

I had learned some of the right things to say, but when they don't work any longer resorted back to saying "you are home"! This reminder of an emotional need really drove it home to me, I'm sure to do better now.


about 3 years ago

My husband 'going home' involves, taking apart, rummaging, packing, wanting to load the truck to go, wanting the car keys, stacking things along the garage wall to leave. It is very busy work and it never stops. I am hoping to use your advice to turn things around. It is most distressing, as I fear if he loads up there will be a battle to get the keys. his wandering inclination is there.


about 3 years ago

Hello, Many thanks for these articles. I read them with great interest, and found them very helpful. I will now attempt to apply what I have learned from them. I am glad to have come across your web site: I shall keep reading your forums and articles, as I find them enlightening and helpful. Kind regards


Anonymous said over 3 years ago

My mother in law used to say "I want to go home" and at the same time point her index finger up, indicating Heaven. She went there in 2007.


over 3 years ago

A* article and so very true. 10 yrs ago when my mother was first admitted to hospital with mixed dementia, she kept asking me to take her home. On her birthday we took her out, the nurses guessed that i would take her home and advised me against it. But , i took no notice! We took her home, she did not recognise where she was, she didnt know where the kitchen was or the toilet/bathroom. she sat in a different chair than she usually sat in and slept the whole hour!! when we were on our way back to the hospital,all she was saying was ' i want to go home'!! It certainly eased me for future visits when she asked to go home.


over 3 years ago

I didn't realize that I shouldn't say "But you are home!" ... my Mom has talked about her "second home" (currently she doesn't have a second home) and going home and I would cheerfully say "But Mom, you are home!" thinking it was a good thing ... that it would ease her confusion if she knew she was home. But now, after reading this, I feel bad about it. I never argue with her. She always just looked a wee bit confused after I told her that she was home. I'm in tears .... I didn't realize she felt so scared ...


almost 5 years ago

Sometimes when we say we "want to go home" we're not even talking about an earthly home at all. Before my wife went into the ICU, where she's now on life support, we talked about it and, like in the movie "The Notebook" ("Second-Hand Lion" is another great one!), we hoped to go home together ... to that place that was home before we came to this earth.


about 5 years ago

...did start a TRADING HAPPY TALES "corner", like Paula invited us to! so, come on over...and Happy Tales to you until we meet again (:


about 5 years ago

Awww, Paula - so sweet a message to greet my morning! here's a Blessing-full of hugs for thee: {{{{Paula}}}} Jesus'n'val=Him and/in me


about 5 years ago

Hi there gollyboy and all-- Re: a "corner" to share your stories: You might enjoy starting a discussion over in Caring's Groups area. (Click the Groups yellow tab at the top of this page and then find the Alzheimer's Support section.)Looks like someone has a thread going on the "I want to go home" thing but feel free to start one of your own for trading the happy tales and prayers you've mentioned, or anything else. I'll bet you're not the only ones interested-- best wishes!


Anonymous said about 5 years ago

We've found it helpful to say to Mom, "Let's all rest a little first" when she says she wants to go home.Or, "Let's all have some ice cream first."


about 5 years ago

dear, dear(same) sweet person ~ as i've begun praying, i tho't of a Way that might be really satisfying for both of us, and maybe Paula Spencer could tell us how we could use a "corner" of Caring.com to do it! last year, i had to leave my Mom after we'd just gotten acquainted as playmates and after i'd grown to love doing all the hands on stuff of getting her ready for her days in the sunshine with me. Got to spend nearly 4 mths getting to know each other on that gentle sweet care-SHARING level and then realized by reading a book called "Staying Connected while Letting Go" @ spouses who were grieving before their wives or husbands actually died...i got a Whisper that it'd be selfish for me to stay any longer when my 2nd Dad couldn't stand our playing so happily as he watched his sweetheart of 60+ years disappear. So, i had to leave them halfway across the country. But, my idea is that to Strengthen you for your fight to get your Dad back, i'd be glad to TRADE HAPPY TALES about our folks! seems like you could use tHIS and i know i could! (and we both appear to love to write, so what better Way to use our "pens" than to bring a smile or even a chuckle to each other's lips...and hearts??? let me know if tHIS sounds good to you by replying here. (and Paula, can you help, please, if dear sweet anonymous wants to do it?) if so/if not, y'all have still got my prayers (and now Our eager HOPES too!) Jesus'n'val


about 5 years ago

dear,dear sweet person ~ i am so sad for both you and your Dad! KEEP FIGHTING for him and your right to be together! and know you've got somebody praying for y'all ~ in His loving Strength and STRENGTHENING Love ~ Jesus'n'val (that's Him and/in me, Caring about thee!)


Anonymous said about 5 years ago

While I appreciate your comments about wanting to "go home", this may be true for some people with dementia. It is certainly not true in my Dad's case, at least at this stage of his disease. My Dad was removed from his home, where he lived with his dog, Champ and me, his primary caregiver. I had help from an outside agency to assist me with my Dad's care and to give me a break. My two sisters who live within 1 mile of our home never lifted a finger to help, never came by to see him even when asked to. My younger sister had my Dad deemed incompetent just 1 month after we lost my Mother, his wife of 50 years. My older sister was granted Guardianship of his person and an attorney was given Guardianship of his finances. Why he needed a Guardian of his Fiances is beyond me. He only had a $55,000.00 CD. My older sister who was granted Guardianship of his Person had my Mom and Dad sign her and her husband's mortgage before my Mom died. To make a long story short, now my Dad owns 50% of my sister's home. As his Guardian she never did a thing for him except to continually try to force him into an assisted living facility. She asked for a recommendation from his neurologist and from the home health care agency that provided care for him. After extensive testing they both agreed that the best place for him was to keep him at home with me and his dog. My children also visit every ohter weekend and they provide him with good conversation and more importantly, they treat him with love and respect. My sister's husband makes jokes about him right to his face calling him "two time Johnny" because he repeats himself a lot. his house over to me at My younger sister asked my Dad for $25,000.00 as soon as we returned home from my Mom's funeral. He would have loaned her the money had my Mom put his name on the CD. When she didn't get what she wanted, she filed a case to have him deemed incompetent. When my Dad's Guaridan of his Finances sent a letter to my sister, his Guardian, indicating that she will have to either buy out my Dad's 50% ownership or sell the house to a third party and give my Dad 50% of the proceeds...that's when things got ugly. While my Dad was living here he and I paid all the expenses 50/50. She forced him to come to her house under the guise that he would be meeting with his Payee to go over his finances. After the meeting my sister would not allow him to return home. When he tried to force himself out the door, she called 911 and had him sent to a psychiatric unit. He remained there for 3 weeks. A psychiatric unit is not exactly a good place for someone with dementia. Finally she had him placed in an assisted living facility, in a memory care unit. She took him from his home on 7/17/08. Finally after months and months of trying to get her to tell me where he was and allow me visitation, I saw him on March 15, 2009. While he was in the psychiatric unit, she would not allow me to visit him, so my ex-husband and my 16 year-old son went to see him there. They reported back to me that he was told I was dead, that his house was sold and that his dog was given to a good home. This meant that there was no other option for him, but to go into a facility. I would imagine he was grateful just to get out of the psych unit at the time. When I did finally see him, it took him a couple of seconds before he realized it was me. At first he looked like he saw a ghost and why shouldn't he think that, after all, he thought I was dead. We had a nice visit, however all he kept talking about was coming home with me. He wanted to see his dog and go back to the way he was living; in a loving, caring environment. He couldn't understand why I wouldn't take him home to live with me again and with his dog. I didn't know what to say, with out upsetting him. I tried to say, well maybe next time, they will let you come home for a visit and we can see how that goes. He was not satisfied with that answer. He knew that I wasn't telling him something and kept asking me what I wasn't telling him. Does this sound like someone who needs to be in a memory care unit. He was perceptive, trying to get answers as to why he was there when he should still be at home. My Dad is quite capable of living at home. The only reason he was removed was because my sister wanted the Deed signed back into his name even though he would be eligible for Medicaid in a little over a year (the Deed to my Dad's house was signed over the me at the request of his Elder Law attorney, prior to being deemed incompetent). We went to mediation in order to avoid litigation and spend more of his money on legal fees instead of his care.I was basically told that if I didn't sign the Deed back over to him that they would not allow me to visit with my Dad. This type of mediation, using a person as collateral and leverage to get a Deed signed back over to him...well it is nothing short of kidnapping. During our visit, my Dad continually asked me to take him home. He asked if he was being held prisoner there (which is basically true). I kept trying to change the subject during our 2 hour visit, but he kept asking questions. I finally told him that I have an attorney working on things and that to try to be patient. While visiting my Dad, (which by the way, my sister decided to place him over 30 miles away from where we live, making it very difficult for me or anyone else to visit regularly. When I arrived, he was eating his lunch. I'm not exactly sure what was on the lunch plate, but for dessert they gave him a huge brownie...my Dad is a diabetic. I asked if it was sugar free and they said no "we feed everyone the same food here". What kind of nonsense is that? My Dad took me to his room. It was quite obvious that no one was there to visit very much. There were no pictures on the walls of family or even my Mom. I took pictures of the room. His mattress was stained with urine and was noting more that a temporary mat that they would used to transport a patient. It was no more that 4 inches thick, there was no mattress protector on it. The emergency pull cord near his bed was tied around a broken electrical outlet and even if he did pull the cord, it would not work. The same went for the bathroom. Now I am being told that I can only visit once per week. Seems very unfair since I was the one who cared for him while he was living at home, not to mention the 8 months that I was denied visitation because my sister, his Guardian said I made him "upset" when I saw him. I didn't make him upset, it was the living conditions that my sister placed him in that made him upset, especially since once he saw me, he realized there was no reason for him to be living there. My Dad is no where near the state of dementia that he needs to be in a place like that. Yes he is forgetful, he is not violent, he does need 24 hour supervision so he doesn't wander, but he had that at home...he certainly isn't monitored there, except for the fact that they have a tracking bracelet that he has to wear. His room was filthy, the walls were stained (with what I don't know), there was dust and dirt all over the floor...which made it slippery and creating a fall hazard. Just weeks prior to my sister tricking him into going to her house, I had an alarm system put installed in our home and my Dad had an emergency fob that he wore all the time. He had 24 hour a day supervison between me and the home health care agency (at a fraction of the cost to keep him in a substandard facility). Also, his fingernails looked like they werent' trimmed in weeks, they were long and jagged. I noticed that he had scratches on his face and neck. I didn't think to ask him to take off his shoes to examine his feet. As I said, he is diabetic and if his fingernails have not been groomed, you can bet his feet are not being cared for properly. While living at home, I would take him about twice a month to see his podiatrist to trim his toenails and check for any sores on his feet. Well, I am totally off the subject here, but when my Dad said he wanted to come home...he meant it literally. Most of the other patients there don't talk and are much further along as far as dementia goes. My Dad is still very sociable and loves to talk. I would go insane in a place like that, because no one there is capable of carrying on a conversaton. I cannot rest until my Dad either comes home or is placed in a facility that is capable of dealing with my Dad's needs and one that is closer to home (and there are plenty within a 5 mile radius). I am at a loss as to how to get my sister off as his Guardian. The Guardian of his finances has only wasted money on a facility that he doesn't need nor does he want. While my Dad was living at home, I paid for all of his medications once his Payee took over his finances, I was not reimburse one penny of the money I laid out for food, medications, doctor's visits, household expenses, etc. I have had to pay thousands of dollars in legal fees to try to keep my Dad at home and to try to get reimbursment for his expenses. All I am told by my lawyer is that he will never be allowed to come home. I simply don't understand that. He has a beautiful home that I have made safe for him to live in. He had the best care at home. This may sound funny, but his dog means the world to him and most people know that animals have a positive affect on people who are sick or elderly. Anyone have any suggestions?


about 5 years ago

I appreciate this article's insight. My Mother has dementia and often wants to "go home". We all tend to be so literal when speaking with each other that we need to remember they are really talking about that feeling. My mother wants her pets again, which she couldn't possibly take care of, so watching animal programs on TV helps to satisfy that need. Also gardening was her passion and small windowsill plants help. These little things make her feel more at "home". Thanks for the reminder to read through the expression and not be literal as we are with others.


about 5 years ago

In your comment I was struck by the phrase "She wasn't at home in her mind" -- also a nice expression about the disease itself. thanks.


about 5 years ago

Your insight touched me. I lost my Grandma to Alzheimer's almost 9 years ago. She was in and out of a facility, since she broke both of her hips. she would often say she wanted to go home. I remember how sad I would feel because she would say this even when she was in her own home. It didn't matter where she was, she still wasn't at home in her mind. This disease is so sad because we lose our loved ones before they are even truly gone. Thank you so much for talking about how to love our loved ones though this terrible disease.


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