Monday, June 11, 2012

"I Want to Go Home"

You often hear about people with dementia in nursing homes repeating over and over again "I want to go home." In everything I have read, this is assumed to happen because the nursing home is not the person's home so clearly they miss where they used to live, they don't understand why they are in a new place, and logically they want to go back home. However, is this really an issue of living in a nursing home and having dementia or is this a common problem with dementia in general no matter where the person lives?

Over the past few months, Mom has not recognized her home. She thinks where she lives is two houses instead of one. She often asks what happened to her house, says that she wants to be in her own house, and asks where her house is. When we ask her to describe what her house looks like, she describes the house she is currently living in so it is not like she is remembering a house from her childhood or another time in her life and so she does not see her current home as hers.

The only thing that has changed in her house is that what used to be the "great room" (a large living room) was sectioned off and a bathroom was added four years ago when we moved in and in anticipation of knowing Mom would not be able to use stairs in the future. However, the rest of the house looks the same. That change may explain why she thinks there are two houses, but she does not even feel like one of the two is her house.

For some people, what if dementia means you never feel like you are at home? Home is not just a physical place, but an emotional and spiritual one. If home is a place filled with your memories and hopefully a feeling of safety and with dementia you are losing your memories and everything feels unsafe, maybe there is no place you can call "home." Maybe when someone with dementia says "I want to go home" they are not asking for a physical place, but they are expressing how unsafe they feel. They may be telling us how unsure they are of life and everything they once knew.
Photo by Jeff Norris

This would not surprise me. When I was little and started having problems with anxiety and bipolar disorder when I was anxious and scared, I would rock back and forth and say to myself "I want to go home" yet I was in my own house. Home was safety, a feeling that the world was alright. I didn't feel that way so I was not at "home." I still say "I want to go home" when I am having a bad day.

Maybe the feeling of wanting to go home is common for those of us with certain brain illnesses because we are looking for emotional and spiritual comfort rather than an actual physical space we call home.


Rev. Katie

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree with you about requesting to go home it doesn't actually mean going home. My mum is 68 and has dementia and she is probably mid stage. She uses going home, needing to go to the toilet and she is cold when she isn't comfortable. If we distract her and make her feel OK, through touch or humour then the feeling leaves her. My Mum can't vocalize how she is feeling so it is up to us as caregivers to 'think outside of the box' and read body language. How lucky that your Mum has you to do this, my Dad unfortunately takes my Mum on lots of walks, turns the central heating up and takes her the toilet because he doesn't understand, bless him. x