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"I just want to go home." If you are caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease, you may have heard this heartbreaking plea. However, when the words come from a person with dementia, that statement doesn’t necessarily mean what you think it does.

It’s fairly well accepted by Alzheimer’s and dementia experts that the "home" most elders want to return to is their childhood home. In later stages of Alzheimer’s disease that is where, in their minds, "home" is. Therefore, even if they are living at home with family, an elder still may ask to "go home."

State the Truth Gently

It’s quite probable that even if a person with Alzheimer’s were moved to what used to be "home, he or she would still not be "home." But that doesn’t make the heartbreaking routine any easier. All you can do is to say repeatedly and gently, "This is your home."

Even if you take a gentle approach and try to explain the reality to your loved one, realize that it likely won’t help a whole lot. If the person is upset by hearing that, drop it. Arguing will only make the situation worse. This is when caregivers need to take a deep breath and accept that they will continually hear this plea. Expect it. Accept it. And plan ahead.

Redirecting Attention

A popular technique for dealing with behavior episodes in people with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients is called "re-direction." What this means is that, once the plea to "go home" begins, you nod your head as a sort of agreement and then gently guide your elder – mentally and/or physically – toward another subject.

This type of distraction can be a powerful technique. Move your loved one toward some object of interest, a window or a television program. It’s great if the Senior Living Center has an aquarium, birds or other live creatures nearby. The elder’s mind is distracted and the talk can then be redirected toward the animal and what it is doing.

If the first bit of distraction doesn’t work, then try something else. A photo album, perhaps, with some talk about his or her childhood. Eventually, the talk may even be turned to appropriate memories.

Eliminating Your Guilt

Your heart will continue to break. But understanding that the home the person wants likely no longer exists can help the caregiver’s "guilt factor" a great deal. Even if you were to pack him up and take him to his last home, he would likely not be satisfied because it’s not really the home he means. He doesn’t want the home he left three months ago, he wants to go to the home from 60 years ago.

No matter what you do, you will continue to hear the plea to "go home." So arm yourself with understanding and acceptance. You can’t fix it. It is heartbreaking, but it is also a reality that family and friends of Alzheimer’s and dementia sufferers must accept and deal with.

Brookdale Senior Living communities provide active retirement living for thousands of residents, serving seniors and their families since 1978. Find a Brookdale community near you.

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