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Also read article below about communicating with a loved one.
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Lizabeth Conners, Assistant Senior Program
“I want to go home!”
Communicating with a loved one who has memory loss or dementia can be challenging, especially when the conversation topic is a sensitive one. Really these techniques can be useful with a variety of topics.
Agree, then redirect and distract
Being able to redirect and distract is an effective technique. It’s a skill that improves with practice, so don’t feel discouraged if the first few attempts don’t work perfectly.
First, agree and validate
For the scenario, imagine your loved one for whom you provide care asks to leave an event or a nursing home. Begin by agreeing by saying something like “Ok, we’ll go soon.” or “That’s a good idea. We’ll go as soon as I clean up these dishes.” This calms the situation because you’re not telling them they’re wrong.
Next, redirect and distract
After agreeing, subtly redirect their attention. This redirection should lead into pleasant and distracting activities that take their minds away from wanting to go home.
For example, you could gently take their elbow while saying “Ok, we’ll go soon” and walk down the hall together to a big window or to the kitchen. Point out some of the beautiful birds and flowers outside or offer a snack or drink they like. Later, casually shift to another activity that’s part of their daily routine.
Another example is saying “Ok, let’s get your sweater so you won’t be cold when we go outside.” Then, while you’re both walking to get the sweater and chatting about something pleasant, stop for a cup of tea or get involved in an activity they enjoy.
Or, ask them to tell you about their home. After a while, guide the conversation to a neutral topic.
Asking about their home validates their feelings, encourages them to share positive memories, and distracts them from their original goal of going home. Open questions that encourage them to share their thoughts work well.
Your home sounds lovely, tell me more about it.
What’s the first thing you’re going to do when you get home?
What is your favorite room of the house?
What to do if nothing is working
- Sometimes, your older adult will be stubborn and refuse to let go of the idea of going home no matter how much you try to soothe or redirect.
- If that happens, you might agree to take them home and then take them on a brief car ride.
- Experiment with how far and how long you need to drive before you can go back to where they live without protest. Or, suggest a stop at the ice cream shop, drugstore, or grocery store to distract and redirect.
- If it’s not possible to actually take them out or get into the car, the actions of getting ready to leave can still be soothing because it shows that you believe them and are helping to achieve their goal.
Meanwhile, the activities of getting ready give you more chances to distract and redirect to a different activity.
Adapted from Daily Caring Newsletter,”3 Ways to Respond When Someone with Alzheimer’s Says I Want to go Home.”