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.

    SEE ALSO: Find Memory Care Near You

  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.


about 1 year ago, said...

Thank you for the tips & tricks for those "I want to go home" moments. I have tried several of those, or some variation thereof, with my mother. I have not tried the old photos trick or asking her to talk about her childhood home. Those are definitely going to into my bag of tools. I have found a few other tricks that have worked, by themselves or in combination: 1. I'll touch her back, give it a quick rub, then turn that into a hug and, in a compassionate tone, say something along the lines of "We're not going right now, we have other things that we have to do. So, we're going to have to be patient." Usually, it's late afternoon and I tell her it's time for me to prepare supper & I still have to feed the pets; 2. Another trick that's worked for me is to change the subject to something which sounds exciting, funny or super interesting. For example, "Oh! I meant to tell you what funny thing happened to my friend Sue yesterday. You'll love this..." 3. Give a bowl of yogurt, ice cream or a piece of chocolate. Actually, I've found chocolate helps out in a lot of situations. Her doctor suggested dark chocolate, but any chocolate works. Sometimes, for any sundown syndrome related situation, I can give her a little hug & a piece of chocolate & she's good to go for a while; 3. I read shoulder massages help to relax them. I've tried that a few times, but she not a big fan of shoulder massages.


over 1 year ago, said...

the only one that works is #1 and leave as she gets agitated. She knows where she lived and wants to go there. no butts about it. She now has private aide in am for 4 hrs and at night 4 hrs and she is blessed with the ones she has, they love her. They are friends to me too. They are licensed CNAs. I get the high sign and I leave.


over 1 year ago, said...

my mom always asks me to take her home,and i used to tell her this is your home,but in vein. Now i understand. i will change my reply.thank u very much for ur advice. arundhati


over 1 year ago, said...

I am far away, 12000 miles and can't help at this stage. My youngest sister who is 80, is having such problems with our eldest sister who has just turned 90 and in a "home". I will mail her these comments in the hope that it will help her. Life is not much fun as you grow old and can't help. I am 73 and as mentioned too far way to help. My health is not good and to travel that distance may not be a good idea.


almost 2 years ago, said...

It's another very helpful piece of the puzzle. Thank you.


about 2 years ago, said...

Only love, reassurance, patience, hugs and trying to change the subject can take her mind off of "home", for a little while. All of which can be to no avail, sometimes.


about 2 years ago, said...

Mom knows exactly where she wants to go; she tells you the exact address. we have tried several things. We can't take her out since we cannot lift her and we don't have a handicapped vehicle. Their van won't take you that far. I have three professional care workers for her now and they have no other things to try either. she keeps saying she doesn't like it there when she gets sarcastic. 8 hrs a day she has a personal caregiver. she acts up with them too. At times she refuses to take part in anything including eating. she is Ares the Ram her birth sign and she lives up to it.


about 2 years ago, said...

Thank you Norm for your concise analysis of what "I want to go home" means to you. i'm sure that Elaine appreciates your efforts as well. Hopefully we can each apply this to our OWN "Norms" situation.


about 2 years ago, said...

The various methods used to focus attention on an idea other than physically leaving the present situation.


over 2 years ago, said...

Norm's description of "home" is inspiring. Needing reassurance, love and hope comes with living everyday.


over 2 years ago, said...

Dementia And wanting to go Home We have all heard people with Dementia say it. I say it most night`s according to my “Angel” Elaine. Sometimes I even whisper it during the day without even knowing. I have thought about this for a while now, and in my very humble opinion, here`s what I think it means. When I say”I want to go home” even though I am sat in the front room of my own house, do I mean my “Spiritual” home?? The answer to that sadly is no, as I am not particularly a religious person, and any belief I once had has dwindled away as my life collapses in front of my very eyes and I know, as yet, there is no cure for this awful disease. So, do I mean my home town of Bolton, Lancashire? I shouldn’t think so, as I have lived in Devon for the last 15 years and even though I am very proud of where I was born, as we all should be, wild horses couldn’t get me back there, as I am totally in love with the Devon Countryside and the way of life here. So, where does that leave me? I think what I mean when I say “I Want to Go Home” is an admission that I know I am really ill, and in fact slowly dying, as there is no cure. I think somewhere, deep in my subconscious, I am yearning for that place where someone will tell me it’s all been a bad dream, or I have imagined it and all will be ok, a place of safety, yet not an actual place, just a reassurance that all is going to be ok? I know that when Elaine says she reassures me that alls ok and I am safe, I calm down, and I either sit still, go back to sleep or talk about something different. So maybe it’s not a physical place after all? Or a place I used to live as a boy or a young man, maybe it’s just a little reassurance I am looking for instead of being told “You Live Here” or “Where Do you think you Live? Food for thought for everyone I hope. Maybe one day I will “Go Home”, maybe one day they will find a cure and I have no need to seek that comforting reassurance any more, maybe, just maybe. All my love Norrms and family xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Diagnosed six years ago aged 50 and still fighting it!!!! PLEASE SHARE


over 2 years ago, said...

thank you for this article, it is very helpful


over 2 years ago, said...

Home to my husband means his childhood home on the farm. Letting him tell me, again, about what they did on the farm helps him and also helps me to learn about farm life, as I am from the big city. This sooths him about going home, as he is going home in his mind and someday he WILL go home.


almost 3 years ago, said...

Better understanding of what is meant by "I want to go home". Also, ways to respond as they are all different backgrounds in life.


about 3 years ago, said...

All of it. We haven't reached that stage yet, but when we do, I'll better know how to handle it. thanks.


about 3 years ago, said...

Thank you for your wise words


about 3 years ago, said...

The concept of "home" for my wife is a dizzying hodge-podge of ideas. Often she harkens back to her childhood home which she left at age 20. She is now 72 and in the mid-stages of AD. We have not seen he childhood home in years. I understandher fond memories of the place. Our current home, in which we've lived for almost twenty years, is where we wish to stay for the rest of our lives. She behaves as though we are here on a temporary basis and will someday have no place to go...be out on the street so to speak. Even though mild compared to some of the other more troubling symptoms going on, this one is bothersome because it leads in to aggressiveness sometimes.


about 3 years ago, said...

My mom started having Delirium & Hallucinations amd spent 31 days at Mental Health. She has been in assisted living for 3 years and has always wanted to go home. She is now in the Special care unit. I walked in her room the other day and was shocked, she had packed every thing in her room. The staff said she gets upset when they put it back so I left it alone. Is any one else dealing with this?


almost 4 years ago, said...

My husband says this, and he means he wants to die and go home. He is 61yrs. old, was diagnosed in 2006, and I am sure he has had it longer. He hates living like this, he cannot do anything, can't be left alone, so I have said all those things to him, that you are home, the look in his eyes is scary, So when he says, I WANT TO GO HOME, he does not want to live like this. It's a horrible disease, wish I could do more for him!!!


almost 4 years ago, said...

I agree that "I want to go home" tends to be an expression of discomfort. It means I want to go to another place different from this. When we were able to get to this conclusion we just practice some of the recommendations or we just change her from one place to another, many times to her bed because she was just tired and wanting to "go home".