When a Senior Wants to ‘Go Home’ – What’s a Family Caregiver to Do?

I want to go home.”

It can be heart wrenching when a family caregiver hears their senior loved one say that.

Sometimes you are out at the doctor or running errands, maybe you are visiting them in a senior facility.

They could be in their own home where you give them daily care.

It doesn’t matter where you may be when they utter these words, but most caregivers feel as though they are failing at being a caregiver when they hear them.

Family caregivers want to feel successful when providing care for their seniors. Family caregivers may need reminders to understand that senior’s confusion about place is common especially for seniors who have a cognitive impairment.

What Makes Caregivers Feel Successful?

Caregivers can feel successful in their role only when certain expectations are met whether by them or through others that help them care for their senior loved ones.

  1. Seniors are safe. They have not fallen, injured themselves or wandered the streets alone recently. The safety interventions they have put in place such as sensors, PERS, or companions have kept their seniors safe from harm.
  2. Seniors are healthy. Caregivers make sure their loved ones take their medicine, visit the doctor, eat healthy food, get some physical activity or keep up with their health prevention schedule, including vaccinations. They are free from illness.
  3. Seniors have not been in the emergency room or the hospital in the past six to twelve months. Family caregivers are overseeing their health and wellness regimen and their safety to prevent health crisis in their senior adults. Caregivers are helping seniors manage their chronic diseases and helping them follow their treatment plans.
  4. Seniors are content. The hope is that seniors will interact with family members, friends and their community to stay socially engaged and free from isolation. Sometimes this is the hardest goal to achieve when the duties of caregiving are overwhelming. Making time for socialization and utilizing technology to keep seniors stimulated can help keep them content.
  5. Seniors are occupied with meaningful activities. Caregivers are frequently challenged by keeping their seniors active with things they enjoy doing and activities that they are still capable of completing without frustration. Doing hobbies, crafts and enjoying music not only passes the day but keeps their minds stimulated preventing boredom and depression.

What Keeps Seniors Content?

We know not every day is a good day and we have peaks and valleys in the course of the week when we are family caregivers.

Few family caregivers have an easy day every day and love what they are doing at all times, but the good outweighs the bad. They know there is purpose and importance to their role.

Not every senior is happy with their current life, even if they are content. Seniors with cognitive impairment are confused and may appear unhappy, related to the progression of their disease.

Some seniors, especially those who may have dementia, may not be able to understand their own emotions or express them to caregivers. We need to look for other signs of discontent and unhappiness.

Family caregivers can do everything possible to provide the best possible care for senior loved ones that meet all five of the topics above. They do a fabulous job, are energetic and creative, think of everything usually ahead of time and keep a balance in their caregiving/family/work life.

Unfortunately, even with the best possible scenario, seniors with dementia will utter those words – “I want to go home.”

Family Caregivers Feel They’re to Blame

Family caregivers who hear that wonder what they are doing wrong, what changes need to be made. They ask themselves if they need to take mom out of this facility and move her somewhere else. They question whether they can care for dad at home by themselves again or wonder what they are doing wrong to make their seniors seem so unhappy.

The truth is that seniors, especially those with dementia, may be unaware of the power of the simple statement they utter. They may not even be referring to the same home that you might think they are.

Oftentimes seniors who ask to go home may mean a home in their memory, perhaps even a home when they were a young child.

People with cognitive impairment at the later stages often revert in their minds to a simpler time, when they were very young. Asking to go ‘home’ when they are in the home with their spouse where they have lived most of their adult life is not uncommon.

What caregivers need to realize is that asking to go home doesn’t mean they are not happy or even content in their current situation and caregivers are not necessarily doing anything wrong that needs to be corrected.

If you were to move your senior from their current living arrangement to bring them where you think their home may be, this may not be where in their mind they want to go.

Tips for Caregivers When Asked to Go Home

Caregivers who are asked ‘take me home’ should reply simplyyou are home.”

It won’t help to confront or argue with your senior loved one, especially if they have a cognitive impairment. It is an argument you won’t win and both sides will just become angry and resentful.

Living in the moment wherever they are and not trying to change their opinion will keep the waters calm.

It is hard for caregivers to hear just “go with the flow” but that is good advice to preserve your own mental well-being. Don’t try to explain reality to your senior loved one. Accept that questions and statements will arise that are easier to not answer, instead redirect their attention to something else.

Accept that you can’t change their minds. If you try to do so, it could inflate their emotions and result in behaviors that may be hard to deal with safely. Agitation and frustration over questioning can lead to aggressive behavior so don’t argue.

Sometimes we need to participate in a technique known as the therapeutic lie. Answer statements such as “I want to go home” with replies such as “ok, we will go after we eat lunch.” Don’t try to convince them that they are already home. In their mind they are not.

Don’t feel guilty about some of the things they may say. It may break your heart when they say things like wanting to go home or if they say hurtful things, but it is their disease process rather than them talking. As hard as that can be to remember when you are faced with these situations, it is important not to let those comments cause you pain or even create uncertainty that you are not doing all you can for them.

Be confident in your ability to be a great caregiver. Stay firm in your plan adding only those things that you know will improve the situation not what is merely a knee jerk reaction to words spoken in confusion.

Rewarding, Difficult and Heartbreaking

Being a family caregiver of a senior can be the most rewarding, most difficult and even at times the most heartbreaking thing you will do.

It is interesting, enjoyable and uplifting for you and them.

It will evoke a myriad of emotions in you.

You have most of the tools you need to be a successful caregiver.

The greatest of these tools is the love you have for your senior loved one and the desire to keep them safe, healthy, happy and engaged.

8 thoughts on “When a Senior Wants to ‘Go Home’ – What’s a Family Caregiver to Do?”

  1. I really enjoyed this article. My mother often tells me that she wants to go home. I always ask her which home she means. Sometimes she can’t tell me but other times she wants to go back to Elizabeth, New Jersey where she lived as a child and which she left in 1947. She usually doesn’t remember Los Angeles where she lived for about 70 years.
    It does hurt,and reading your article helped me understand better.

    • Glad to help, that’s why we do what we do! People with memory loss may find answering direct questions frustrating and they probably can’t express where home is. They know they aren’t where their mind tells them they are supposed to be. It can be disheartening to caregivers who try to understand a devastating disease. We wish you all the best with your mom! Thank you!

    • Thank you Dana, glad you liked it! Caregivers have so many things to worry about we need a reminder sometimes that we are doing all we can and where we need to be! Thanks!

  2. My mother suffers from dementia, and it happened just last week, that she wanted to go home and could not believe the assisted living facility was her home now. Your article is very helpful – good techniques to deal with that statement, and knowing that your focus is on doing all you can to keep her safe and content. But it is truly difficult and sometimes heartbreaking. Thanks, Liz

    • Thank you for sharing your experience Liz. We hope the information was helpful as more and more of us will face this in the future with our senior loved ones. Good luck with your mother!

  3. Great article! I hear this too, from my mother with dementia living in assisted living. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s ok to share her nostalgia for her home of 40 years, and it doesn’t necessarily mean she’s demanding to be taken back. She’s still cognizant enough to realize that she can’t live on her own, so we talk for a little about what she misses, I commiserate with her about how hard it was to leave, and then I try to steer her back to the things that she likes about her new home, like not having to cook and clean, or worry about falling in the night. She’s also allowed to have her beloved pets, so the fact that all her neighbors love her dog helps keep her mind off missing her old home. For now this is working pretty well. We’ll see how it goes as the disease progresses.

    • That sounds great Melissa, how fortunate for her that she can keep her beloved dog for companionship! Great insight and thanks for sharing!

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