Sometimes a person with dementia will announce, for no apparent reason, that it’s time they were getting back home. This can come as something of a surprise to the wife or husband sitting beside them in the home they have shared for years. The immediate reaction is often to tell them, “We are at home; this is where we live.” A reminder may be all that is needed to prompt a failing memory. Often though, these mistaken ideas become entrenched and then nothing will persuade the person that they are at home. Why might this happen and how can we respond?
When we hear a child say, “I want to go home,” we instinctively know they are probably feeling unsure or threatened and they want the security of familiar surroundings and people. The same may be true for an older person whose cognitive ability has declined to the point where nothing around them seems quite right. Unsure of their surroundings they begin to feel afraid.
We know that a person with dementia experiences emotions as powerfully as they ever did; the fear is real but the ability to express and explain how they feel has gone and often the best they can do is say, “Have you seen my mum?” or “I want to go home.” If we are to help them, we need to respond to the emotions, not the words. Telling someone, “Your mum died years ago,” or “You are at home,” will not alleviate their distress. Engaging with them sympathetically and asking them to tell you about their mum or their home may help restore happy memories and bring a welcome calm.
For information about the Wednesday (Memory) Group in Retford call Jan on 01777 709974.