20 questions to ask yourself when someone who lives with dementia wants to “go home” or tries to escape wherever they are

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Wanting to “go home” is a desire often expressed by people who live with Alzheimer disease and/or other types of dementia, even when they are in their own homes. Not being able to fulfill a loved one’s desire “go home” can be incredibly frustrating for care partners who would certainly take their family member living with dementia “home” if only they could.

In the early days of being a care partner to my mom, I didn’t know what to do when she said “I want to go home.” She would have her little bag packed with random stuff, and be ready to go out the door.

“But Mom, we are home,” I would say. “Look, Mom, this is your furniture, these are your carpets, those are your pictures on the wall. We are home!”

When she wasn’t convinced, the conversation would get more heated as we stood arguing in the kitchen, den, or living room of her big red brick house on the hill, until I sometimes heard myself yelling at her in exasperation “Where is home then, if it’s not here?”

I soon learned that arguing with her didn’t work. It was a waste of time and energy. It left both of us emotionally drained, and no further ahead. Eventually, I found different solutions to “I want to go home,” as well as other challenges. One solutions was to put myself in her shoes, to see her reality rather than my own.

What I discovered through self-reflection, observation and my own research is the behaviour we find challenging in people who live with dementia is behaviour we would likely exhibit ourselves in similar circumstances.

20 questions to ask yourself when someone who lives with dementia wants to “go home” or tries to escape wherever they are
  1. When you find yourself in an environment that makes you anxious or uncomfortable, what do you do?
  2. How would you feel if you were kidnapped? What would you do?
  3. If you found yourself in a place that that was too hot, too cold, or too noisy, what would you do?
  4. If were taken from your home by people you didn’t know, and put in a strange place full of crazy people, what would you do?
  5. Where do you want to go or be when you feel tired, overwrought, out of sorts, out of place, lonely, scared or overwhelmed by everything?
  6. How important is it to your well-being to feel like you belong somewhere? Where do you feel your greatest sense of belonging?
  7. How long can you stay in one place without wanting to go somewhere else? Hours? Days? Weeks? Months? Years?
  8. If someone locked you in your house and told you that you could never leave, how would you feel?
  9. As a child, did you ever fall and hurt yourself while playing outside? Where did your instinct tell you to go for safety and security?
  10. Have you ever run away from a problem, a place or a situation? When? Why?
  11. Do you ever feel like you just have to leave when things get too much for you to bear?
  12. Do you sometimes just want everything to be other than the way it is?
  13. Do you take holidays and vacations away from home? How does it feel to be away? How does it feel to be away when everything seems to go wrong?
  14. How do you feel when you return home after a holiday, vacation or long visit with friends or family?
  15. In general, where do you prefer to be most of the time: in your own home or someone else’s home?
  16. In general where do you feel most comfortable and in control: in your own home or someone else’s?
  17. What feelings does the word “home” evoke for you?
  18. Given the choice, when you feel tired or sick, would you rather be at home or somewhere else?
  19. Do you sometimes long to be somewhere other than where you are?
  20. When do you most appreciate being “at home” wherever that is or whatever it means to you?

It’s no wonder people living with dementia want to go home…

13 expert tips to help with “I want to go home.”

“wandering” is not a symptom of dementia

 

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