Dementia and "I Want to Go Home"

8 Ways to Soothe Someone With Dementia Who Says, "I Want to Go Home"
Window to somewhere

"I want to go home!" This common expression can be painful -- and mystifying -- to hear from someone who's already home, whether in a longtime residence or a new care facility. But don't take it literally.

"I want to go home" tends to be an expression of discomfort: The person doesn't recognize where he or she is and/or is feeling distressed and uncomfortable. At this point in dementia, memories of the distant past are strongest and are often happy ones associated with good feelings. Wanting to go "home" is often an expression of longing for that security.

To soothe:

  1. It doesn't help to argue. Offering up rational responses, such as "But you are home!" or "This is your home" are ineffective with someone with dementia because their intellectual capacity to reason is gone.

  2. Say something like, "You really miss home. Tell me about home." Then just listen.

  3. Try being agreeable: "Okay, let's go." Take a drive around the area and when you get back to where you started, announce, "We're home!"

  4. For someone who has moved a lot, ask, "Which home do you mean?" This may be enough to trigger reminisces that are calming.

  5. Don't feel insulted. Adult children who have taken in a parent with dementia often feel that Mom or Dad is complaining that they haven't been made to feel at home. It may be that your loved one is feeling uncomfortable or doesn't have enough privacy, but that's not the same as an indictment of your intent to welcome the person into your home.

  6. Don't go out of your way to engineer a trip back to a former home or hometown. Taking the person to visit a past home usually doesn't help because it's not remembered. (Earlier in dementia this may work, but it may also be confusing if the person doesn't quite remember the circumstances of leaving.)

  7. Realize that "home" may refer to childhood. Invite the person to talk about favorite activities or places "back home."

  8. Try going "home" with photos: "We can't go home today, but look at these pictures I found. They can help us plan a trip back there sometime." Then distract with the images.