How do I deal with my mother, who has Alzheimer's, when she wants to "go home"?

20 answers | Last updated: Nov 13, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother has Alzheimer's and every day she wants to leave and go home or just leave my house.  She packs anything she can or whatever is in her way.  Please help me . Some people say a doctor.will give her medications that will make her sleep.  I dont want her being a zombie.



Expert Answers

A social worker and geriatric consultant who specializes in dementia care, Joyce Simard is based in Land O' Lakes, Florida, and in Prague. She is a well-known speaker and has written two books, one focusing on end-of-life care and the other, entitled The Magic Tape Recorder, explaining aging, memory loss, and how children can be helpers to their elders.

I appreciate that you do not want to use medication , try behavioral interventions first.   Alzheimer's housing anxiety is not unusual .  The reason why she feels as if she must leave is that at the end of the day for most people in their younger years (where  she might be in her mind,) it is a time to go home from work or start preparing for the evening meal.  The sun is setting, thus the term "sun-downers" and she is perhaps just tired after spending an exhausting day trying to cope with everything going on around her that she might not understand.    See if she will take a nap before the behavior starts.  Lower extra stimulation like the television and try to reduce the number of things going on around her.

Have a suitcase ready for her and a pile of clothing that she can "pack".  When she is sleeping unpack and get everything ready for her to pack again the next day.  If at all possible, give her something to do while she is waiting for a "ride".  Peeling potatoes, folding laundry, setting the table, any chore she can still do.  This might also be a time when you can go to a room that has fall lighting and have a cup of decaf tea or coffee and make this a special time with mom.  If all of the behavioral interventions do not work, discuss the situation with her physician who may be able to prescribe a mild anti anxiety medication. 


Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

I have tried these things...Anxiety medication has been increased. Still I have this problem myself.


A fellow caregiver answered...

I believe "GOING HOME" means going back to the childhood home..where they felt secure and safe and protected. The world for an Alzheimer and/or Dementia patient must be so filled with fear and anxiety that "HOME" would make that all go away. (or at least that is what they think)


Sweetlipsbaby45@yaho answered...

Thanks to all But my mom is in a nursing home now.She been there for about a year in half now . She sometimes said she wants to go home . I say to her ok when the Doctor say you can or its to late now . she doing ok there I tell her she has a lot of friends here and the big thing is she SAFE HERE if she was home she was on the floor for hours and my 2 Brothers were not taking care of her thats why she came home with me .She lived in Fla and my hole family lives there I stayed here ion Long Idland new york were I was born n raised .But thats a nother story about my ass brothers sold everything in her homes and didnt say any thing to me or to my sister so I dont want to talk to them any more they are dead to me .But thats ok I got the best thing in life is MY MOTHER Iam makeing her as confable as i can I see her every day make her know Iam here for her and I love her with all my Heart and take one day at a time .There is so many People that are in the same boat .at work I give them this Email to help them out.Thanks SO Much for YOU HELP


Pegisu answered...

We have my Mother-in-Law(85) living with us now. She spent the last 25++ years sharing a home with her Daughter(59), who is a teacher, and also does some work for a friend/Lawyer. So Mother is @ home alone all day. Since either me or my husband are home during the day, everyone agrees she should live with us. Every night Mother says she needs to go back home to be with her daughter, so she won't be alone, even though Mother is the one who is home alone! We go back once a month and let her stay the night, when we get back home (3 1/2 hour drive) Mother says she should have stayed. We understand that used to be her home, but the best and safest place for her now is here with us. She says she enjoys being here, she feels loved and appreciated, very well taken care of, but she feels belongs there.


1whocares answered...

Kudos for looking for answers that do not require medication. If all else fails, they are always there to be used as conservatively as possible with a doctor's care. My dad has such strong wandering tendencies I would label them more like 'running' tendencies. I have noticed they usually surface when he feels overwhelmed and out of options. Being fiercely independent all his life he feels he must do something about whatever it is that's bothering him. So I find the best thing I can do is to be proactive, using distraction and redirection whenever I can to ward off his need to leave where he is or go home. The other thing I've found very effective in managing alot of the behaviors my dad display is taking him for a walk. He is still ambulatory, so this works for him. We talk the whole time noticing things along the way and discussing whatever is bothering him. The really neat part is the 'coming home'. Whether we're coming back to the nursing home or back to my apt., there is a coming home feeling that I try to foster. Sometimes we will spend some time putting away all the things he has taken out to go home, or discuss topics we started during our walk. Through it all I do as much as I can to touch him; by that I mean hold his arm and draw him close while we're walking, and sometimes just stop and hug him. I think all these things help him to feel safer and cared for sometimes when words are not enough. It also makes him tired and more ready for sleep. Slowly through researching, talking to experts and others who are living through it I am developing tools I can reach when behaviors get difficult. When one doesn't work I go to the next one. When none of them work I find myself here, just like you are, reaching out for help...you will find an answer. Don't be afraid to be creative. Sometimes because we care so much, I am convinced we are provided with little miracles that come in the form of a quiet thought. God Bless.


A fellow caregiver answered...

My husband is in assisted living and each time I visit he wants to leave and go whereever I am going. We cannot have a conversation because he is relentless in his pursuit. Quite often I have to leave after about 10 minutes without saying goodbye.

It seems to help if I have another friend go with me for a visit. He is not as aggressive in his quest to leave and is more social with another person along.

Redirection does not work with him. He knows he is in a different location than where I am. Sometimes if I visit just 3 or 4 times a week he seems to adjust better. Doctors tell me I am going to see him too often; the caretakers say they don't think so.

I tell him he can leave when the Doctor says he is okay to leave, but he doesn't buy into that.


Noscreennameyet answered...

Mum is already at home, but I've finally understood that 'going home' to her is going to her room. It's made a difference!


Knitwhit answered...

All you all have written is helpful. My husband will sometime ask "When are we going home?" We have been living in this house for 62 years, but every once in awhile he thinks that is not home. I thin k the dementia makes him feel like he is somewhere else and he must go home to feel better. I just hug him and tell him that we are home and as long as we are together we will always be home. Our son and his wife have moved in to help us and he frequently wonders why they are here and when are they going home. They have been with us for over a year. I don't have any answers. You just have to do the best you can. Bless you all for caring so much.


Sue o. answered...

I find if helpful sometimes to ask about "home". Who is there? What does it look like? Where is your favorite place? What do you do there? Do you want something to eat that is there? Sometimes, I ask about the yard, neighborhood, even the weather. I can get clues about what they are thinking...sometimes they mean their heavenly home!


Nutmeg answered...

My sister lives in assisted living, and wants to go home, which she left three months ago where she lived alone but with an 8-hour caregiver. I take her out often, and she is very confused about where she is, and doesn't recognize her room till she sees her cat when we get back to the facility. Her on-going complaint is that she feels there's a dagger in her heart there. She doesn't like the activities director, so she won't attend the activities. I can understand the fact that at home there was a variety of things for her to do---skimming her pool, weeding in the garden, walking around the block; at the facility she has to stay inside, eat every meal in the same place, etc. We are going in 2 weeks for a 4-day Elderhostel trip. I am 80 years old, and have a grandson to take care of in the afternoon (6 years old) I don't know how often to visit, and am neglecting everything in my small apartment, in order to visit her almost every morning or evening, and take her places. I guess it's just one day at a time. From Nutmeg


Inneedofbeach answered...

I am also in this same position. My mother has been in A.L. for 2 months and she is relentless about wanting to go home, but she has already forgotten the home she lived in for 20 years and is confused about which of the other homes she lived in. It is heartbreaking to talk about this every day. The worst part is that she cannot be redirected when this topic comes up and then she cries a lot. We have been to the doctor and adjusted meds, but that does not seem to be working. The best thing we can do is listen, but this is extremely hard because she is not very nice. My sister and I try to got see her a couple of times a week, but we each have full time jobs and young children. And if we do take her out for dinner or shopping, sometimes she won't go back in and resorts to hitting and slapping us. If we don't visit, she calls us relentlessly - sometimes 15 times a day! I know I'm supposed to be understanding, but sometimes I can't figure out how to balance my mom's anger and my family. I feel so pulled in different directions and feel like I am doing everything poorly. I know my mom can't help it, but it is really hard to be strong and supportive.


Eab3564 answered...

LOL, I arranged to take my Mom "home" back to the house we lived in most of my childhood, a home she talks about all the time and just wished she could get back to...we sold it 19 years ago. We are here now and all she wants to do is go "home". We are 7 hours away from where she lives, and we are here for 5 days.....I am very sad.


A fellow caregiver answered...

After just recently losing our mom with dementia, we realized she was giving us signs that she was ready to go to heaven. She kept saying, I want to go home. We of course responded, mom you are home. She was in the process of getting things in order and preparing us for her to cross over. A wonderful book was recommend called Final Gifts. In any event, it is worth looking for and reading. It can be a real comfort to understand what your mom is going through and be able to support her through this process. It helped to understand the "werid" things going on with more clarity. I empathize with what you are going thru. Hugs and prayers. Read the Book Review in this link. And Hospice is so helpful in so many ways. Reach out to them. We couldn't have gotten thru without them. http://dying.about.com/od/reviews/gr/final_gifts_rev.htm


Kathy - horizon bay at hyde park answered...

I work at a memory care facility and I want to offer a little insight from my perspective working with residents day in and day out. Please understand that even if they were "home" that they could still very well be having this same challenge. It's not that they don't want to be at the AL facility - it's that they are wanting to be somewhere that is most likely from an earlier time in their llife. It is sometimes helpful to use this as an opportunity to use reminiscing, to get them to talk about "home". This can be very helpful in helping them to relax and focus on the reality they are in (their thoughts), rather than on actual reality, which doesn't seem right to them. As they talk about "home", turn it into an emotional journey - encourage them to talk about how much they loved that particular room, porch or person. Ask them simple questions like: "Did you enjoy playing games on the porch?" or "What was your favorite TV show?" or "Your mother was always there for you wasn't she?" Often times just getting them to reminisce about that time in their life can be calming. And then, if possible, segue into a related activity, like "so you are a good housekeeper? I'll tell you what, I have some towels that I could sure use your help with. Ij ust can't seem to find time to get them folded. Could you help me get them done?" And then go into that activity, and segue into the next actual activity from there (dinner or a snack is often helpful).


4myonlymommy answered...

My mother is now an official widow, though I guess a more official divorce' before that...they stayed friends for over 20+years. I'm a nurse and I have a family full of Alzeimers tradgedies.. It is alwasy "inleau of flowers" hep money for the national Alzeimers association. It is so sad the way some people speak of their loved ones as if they are in their ways. I promised my mom that I will get beel and movement alarms when the time comes. I think God never gave me children because I take in every stray animal along with me. Think of how scary it must be to be confused everyday...waking up in a strange house etc. I'm glad I am able to help.


Ralph c. answered...

Interesting! Here we are on a two week vacation away from the heat and my wife ask me every ten minutes "when can we go home"! I know she is most comfortable in her own suroundings but we are visiting friends she likes, going on walks she used to like and have very nice accomodations. I'm sure it is all part of the illness.


A fellow caregiver answered...

Everything I have read says respond to the emotion. So when my husband wants to go home every night while we are sitting in our living room, I cuddle with him, tell him, I love him and that we are safe. Most of the time that works. Sometimes I have to load him in the car and drive around the block to "home". Other, really bad nights, there's no consoling him. He nearly always asks where "mom" is -- she's been dead for about 15 years. I just tell him she is home and we are at our home. He seems to accept it. I express verbally that I'm sorry it seems so confusing, but we are safe and try to love him through what must feel terrifying in his disconnected mental frame. I hope this is helpful.... Though I know really nothing is helpful. I feel your pain.


Justdave answered...

I find myself practically alone in the family with respect to any care for my Mum. My mother starts asking when we are going home also at different times starting about 3:30pm, but not everyday. I find it can start when she is left to entertain herself for a bit rather constantly with me at her side or doing something with her. Passtimes like reading the paper, TV, are of marginal interest or don’t last long. She will pack up purses with odd items as we are “going home”! This will also occur if she is not the focus of a conversation or too much chatting occurs between two others. I’ve determined her home in her mind at those times is her childhood home and a few times I have taken her out in the car to see where she grew up and my grandparents lived once upon a time. She calms down a lot simply with the movement of the car (similar to the calming effect it has on a crying baby). She does not recognise their house and when told the house is where she grew up, she finds it mildly interesting, but has no intentions of getting out. I have even taken her to my grand-parents grave sites. She will insist they live somewhere in the city but change her thinking when we visit the cemetery. She is not sad, but seems to remember then. I have the stones decorated (angels/flowers) and she is delighted to see that. Looking at photographs helps too sometimes. I have also used little snack bars and will purchase sparkly earrings to give her. She delights in both. I don’t know the answer to this problem except to say that activity seems to be a resolution. If she’s busy/active, it is less likely to occur. Visiting with pets also seems to be a delight for her and she takes to them well. At night, I have some small talking teddy bears she enjoys and she likes to be hugged and told how important she is or loved. This has a calming effect. Someone mentioned having the person nap at sunset. I would be concerned about this solution as it may make bedtime more difficult or encourage them to wake in the night. I see another well intentioned person interpreted it to mean she wants to go to Heaven now. I don't wish to be at all harsh but I did not find this helpful (the opposite); this whole experience makes my soul cry every day at some point as I put on a brave face. She's very sweet and a delight until the confusion starts. I don't care for the drug option either and have concerns about nursing homes. The pharmacist recommended half a gravol to calm the anxiety on occasion (usually used to combat motion sickness but also calms anxiety). This works with time, but I don't like it and I wouldn't do it regularly or recommend it to others without their first checking with a health professional. It's a very last resort.


Barryg answered...

I've been in the same situation a lot. 'Go along to get along' is good advice. I reassure my mother that she is safe and that I love her. And I take her for walks and bus rides as much as I can - often 3 outings a day. (Fortunately as a full-time carer I have the time, and we have concessionary bus travel.) By the time we're on the bus she's forgotten where we are going and enjoys the changing scenery and the children and dogs nearby.