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‘I want to go home’ - What to say to someone with dementia in care

Here are some ways family members and primary carers can approach the difficult question, 'What do I say to someone with dementia in residential care who wants to go home?'

It is not uncommon for a person with dementia in residential care to say they want to go home. This may be caused by time-shifting and can be distressing for everyone.

Below are a few considerations on what to say to someone in this situation who wants to go home.

5 things to remember when someone with dementia is asking to go home

1. Avoid arguing about whether they are already ‘home'

For a person with dementia, the term 'home' may describe something more than the place they currently live. Often when a person with dementia asks to go home it refers to the sense of home rather than home itself.

‘Home’ may represent memories of a time or place that was comfortable and secure and where they felt relaxed and happier. It could also be an indefinable place that may not physically exist. 

It’s best not to disagree with the person or try to reason with them about wanting to go home.

If he or she doesn't recognise their environment as 'home' at that moment, then for that moment, it isn't home. 

Try this instead:

Try to understand and acknowledge the feelings behind the wish to go home. Find out where 'home' is for them - it might not be the last place they lived. It could be where they lived before moving recently or it could be somewhere from their distant past.

Often people with dementia describe 'home' as a pleasant, peaceful or idyllic place where they were happy. They could be encouraged to talk about why they were happy there. This can give an idea as to what they might need to feel better.

2. Reassure them of their safety

The desire to go home is probably the same desire anyone would have if we found ourselves in a strange and unreasonable place.

Try this instead:

Reassure the person verbally, and possibly with arm touches or hand-holding if this feels appropriate. Let the person know that they are safe.

It may help to provide reassurance that the person is still cared about. They may be living somewhere different from where they lived before, and need to know they’re cared for.

3. Try diverting the conversation

Keep a photograph album handy. Sometimes looking at pictures from their past and being given the chance to reminisce will ease feelings of anxiety. It might be best to avoid asking questions about the picture or the past, instead trying to make comments: 'That looks like Uncle Fred. Granny told me about the time he....'

Alternatively, you could try diverting them with food, music, or other activities, such as a walk.

4. Establish whether or not they are feeling unhappy or lonely

A person with dementia may want to 'go home' because of feelings of anxiety, insecurity, depression or fear. 

Is the person with dementia happy or unhappy now? If they are unhappy, it may be possible to discover why. If they cannot tell you why, perhaps a member of the staff or another resident knows why.

Like other people, someone with dementia may act out of character to the people closest to them as a result of  a bad mood or bad day.

Does the person with dementia keep talking about going home when people are not visiting them in the care home? Does he or she seem to have settled otherwise? The staff in the home may know.

Our dementia advisers are here for you.

5. Keep a log of when they are asking to go home

Certain times of the day might be worse than others. What seems to be the common denominator about these times? Is it near meal times (and would a snack perhaps help)? Is it during times when the environment is noisier than usual? Is it later in the day and possibly due to ‘sundowning’?

If you see a pattern, you can take steps to lessen or avoid some of the triggers.

Selecting and moving into a care home

Our booklet will help if you're caring for or supporting someone with dementia and are looking to choose the right care home. This free resource also has tips for moving into a care home, including advice on asking to go home.

Order the booklet Download the PDF
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My mom has dementia and is in the sundowners portion. During the day most of the time she's fine she knows what is going on, but later in the evening she starts to want to go home and it's not so much that she just wants to go home, she wants to see her mom who passed away in 1968. I live with her and take care of her the house she is living in she has been living in since it was built in 1960. This happens every night and I try deflecting and I try changing the subject but she still goes right back to wanting to go home to see her mom.

No need to tell her that her mom passed away. Don’t try to bring her to your reality, instead ask questions about her mom, how was it growing up with her mom, etc …validate her feelings …and so on to the point you two will be talking about something else… offer her warm favorite drink etc

How do you know when is the right time to move to care

Hi Janine,

Thanks for your comment.

We have some information on our website that you may find helpful: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/help-dementia-care/care-homes…

If you select the green 'save this information' button on that page, you can also download, print or order a free copy of the publication in the post.

You can also call our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456. One of our dementia advisers can learn more about your situation and give tailored information, advice and support. You can find more details (including opening hours) here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

We hope this helps, Janine.

Alzheimer's Society web team

Is it normal for dementia patients to be aggressive when moving into a care home

Thank you for this. I work in an LTC facility and hear this almost every day but never really thought of "home" as more of a concept than a physical place. I'm going to share this with my coworkers.

Amazing tips. Thanks for sharing it.

Whatever happens, my mom lives with me. Sorry, I want to correct my statement. I live with my mom who is suffering from dementia and she is 86 years old. This is the right statement for a mother who brought you into this world. I would kill my career and stay with my mom. This is the culture we have in Pakistan. To take care of aging parents and not to send them to retirement homes.

How do you pay the bills and put food on the table? What about your own mental health?

It is a good question. I am working and did not search for any better job outside the city or country.
Money is important but it is the least important thing among the most important things.
Regarding mental health, it is fine as I have not reached that age where you see the symptoms.
I have a firm belief that if I live long enough, my kids will take care of me. God willing.

I think theywant your mental health

We are just moving my mother in law in with us, she has been my my mum since I lost my parents. I have worked as a qualified nurse all my life. Terrified, but we will make it work. All the online help makes it a little less daunting. Good luck, and all my love coming your way. xx

Hi. I understand how you feel. I moved in with my Mom who is 88. She always talks about a cousin of mine I've 9nly meet once when I was a teen. I know my Mom hasn't seen her in over 30 years. She always thinks we are at her house and she needs to go home. It's so hard. She always thinks she's talk to this person that day and wants to know where she is and when she'll be home. I don't understand why she is fixated on this person. I always just try to go along with it and then try to distract her, but it's so hard to understand and deal with her wanting to go home.

That is true for many cultures, your comment is exactly what I told the UK authorities, my mom (not speaking one world in English) is in a nursing home in UK and she never wanted to be in a nursing home, but it was my sister who manipulated the system to get her in a nursing home against her and my will. She expressed her wishes to leave many times and its all documented and communicated to the UK authorities who elect to disregard her whishes distorting the truth saying she is happy in the nursing home. Seeing the truth about the nursing home concept is not what the nursing home and Social Services in UK want to hear. If you have the means (physical and financial) it is not in the best interest of your parent with the dementia condition to be in a nursing home, don't full yourself that they would get better care there vs at home within the family.

This article helps me to understand why Mom might be saying these things. It’s never easy hearing these words from Mom. I just want to wrap her up in my arms and for a split second image life for Mom without this cruel disease.

My husband just been diagnosed with vascular dementia and alzheimers were married 57 yrs hes always asking to go home finally got him to tell me where it was it was where he was born i cry every night

Pauline, we're very sorry to hear this. It sounds like you are going through a very difficult time. Please know that you aren't alone, and we are here for you.

We would strongly recommend calling our support line on 0333 150 3456 to speak with one of our trained dementia advisers. They will listen to you and provide specific information, advice and support that's relevant to your situation. You can find more details about the support line (including opening hours) here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

We hope this helps, Pauline. Please do call our support line.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

I know how you feel. My husband very recently had to go to a memory care home. I am grieving. We have been together since we were 14 and 16. Prayers for you and me both.

Thank you for this advice. My mum has just gone into a care home at the age of 99 yrs. I had been her only carer. It is very upsetting, when i visit she holds on to me and wants to go home, she says it alot. Your article has helped me to understand a little better.

Jacci - I know the feeling. My mother begs me to come and get her; to take her home. And when I visit her, she won't let me leave. I know she is looking for safety and familiarity.

Grace- You described exactly what I’m afraid of. My husband has dementia and aphasia. I am his entire world. My children have asked me to move 3 hours away to live by them so they can help me but they want me to put him in a mental care facility. How on earth can I leave him in a strange place where I am not with him?

Thank you for this article. As soon as I read the title, it reminded me of the guilt, the distress and the discomfort that surrounded those words for me. Very useful information, thank you.

We are so pleased you found this useful, Chandni. Thank you for letting us know.

If you're happy to share more details, we would be interested to learn about your situation and how dementia affected your life. You can email your story to [email protected]

Alzheimer's Society blog team

Strangely enough (and I hope this brings comfort to those whose parents are in a care home), our mum is living in her own home with Alzheimer’s dementia and is asking more and more to go home and is waiting for someone to come pick her up to take her home - even though she is in her own home. Distressing for her and us, as we try and convince her that she is in her own home but reading this makes me realise we need to try distracting rather than trying to convince her, thank you.

Hi Diane - Thank you for sharing that even though your mother is in her home she is still asking to go home. It takes away some of the doubt and guilt I have over my mother living in memory care

Hi Grace. I am so pleased this helps a little and it should definitely ease your feelings of any guilt and doubt you may have. I spent an hour the other night, first of all trying to convince mum she was in her own home but then realising the error of my ways and just trying to change the subject instead and trying to get her to focus on something else (very difficult over the phone). I wish you all the very best. Take care.

I wish you luck with distracting her Diane. My mother lives in her house and says she wants to go home all the time. She knows what city she lives in and we tell her well that's here but she still doesn't believe us. We have tried distractions and have had no luck with distractions either. She is not distracted by our distractions because she is set on going home.

I know exactly what you mean Tammy, it’s so difficult. My Mum has now started wandering (I never thought this stage would come) and we have had to buy her a watch with a gps tracker. Once she gets the thought of “going home” in her head , nothing will stop her from getting out of the house! I find this very strange because she can forget things from one second to the next but the thought of going home stays as clear as anything for the hour or so that it can take her to get ready to leave the house. Take care and i wish you all the best with your Mum Tammy.

Diane , My mom was always packing to go home, even though she was in her own home, half the time she thinks I’m her sister who passed 20 years ago. She wasn’t making good decisions. It became unsafe for us to leave her in her own home and we moved her into memory care. She continues to pack up to leave the facility. It’s like a record playing in her head with the same scenario daily. This came on about 2 months ago. Up until that point we were comfortable with her in her own home. Will this behavior ever stop? She can’t remember from one minute to the next.But this has become a daily thing. It’s so hard, I just want her happy.

Chandni, my thoughts exactly. I also cry with guilt. Not only has my husband's life and our lifestyle changed, mine has too. I have been googling every web site in order to cope.

Rosie, we'd recommend calling our support line on 0333 150 3456 to speak with one of our trained dementia advisers. They will listen to you and your husband's situation and provide specific information, advice and support. You can find more details about the support line (including opening hours) here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

You might also benefit from joining our online community, Talking Point, where carers and other people affected by dementia share their experiences. You can browse the community or sign up for free here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/dementia-talking-point-our-on…

We hope this helps, Rosie - and remember to call the support line if you need someone to talk to.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

Hi, I really need some advice if possible please.
My mother in law has vascular dementia and she regularly calls us to say she wants to go home, but she's not in a care home. She's at home with her husband. However, although she knows her husband is a man called Roy, she says it's not "her" Roy, and that she needs to go because her Roy will want to know where she is. She gets anxious and upset and constantly says she'll get a cab to get home. We live over an hour's drive away. We really need some advice on the right things to say to help her over the phone as we can't get to get immediately. Most of the calls are in the evening. My other half just constantly gets her to look around the house and describe what's there to try and get her to realise she's at home. I don't know how to help her. If anyone can offer any advice I really would be grateful.

Thank you for your comment, Sarah. We're sorry to hear about the difficult situation you are all going through. Please know that we are here for you if you need someone to talk to.

You can call our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456 to speak with one of our trained dementia advisers. They are here to listen to you, understand your situation and provide you with advice and support. More details about the support line (including opening hours) are available here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

You might also find it useful to talk to others who have been or are currently in similar situations. Within our online community, Talking Point, carers and other people affected by dementia share experiences, advice and offer support. You can browse the community or sign up for free here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/dementia-talking-point-our-on…

We hope this helps.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

Your article on 'I want to go home' and the advice is much appreciated. My lovely Dad has mixed dementia - Vascular & Alzheimers along with other medical needs; it came as a devastating blow to us all. We recently took the decision to place him in respite care for a couple of weeks, as much as anything to give my dear Mum a break and rest from being his full-time carer, instead of being his wife. She was completely exhausted, anxious and overwhelmed by his needs and illness - it's absolutely heartbreaking to watch them on this cruel journey. My Dad's not able to understand why he's in the home, says he's done nothing wrong and is regularly pleading us to take him home. It's so distressing hearing him upset on the phone in this way; but I know he's being taken good care of and without him being in the home our Mum's health would be at serious risk of deteriorating too. I'll being visiting him at the end of this week and will be using your advice on how to approach his repeated requests to 'go home'. I'm not sure that he'll be able to come home due to the level of care he now needs and whilst we'd all love nothing more than him not to have dementia and to be at home with Mum, that's not where we're at and firmly believe he and my Mum are both getting the best possible care for their individual needs. I also understand music can be a great comfort to someone with dementia and I bought Dad a radio for Christmas, although it has to be programmed to his favourite music channels. I hope this too will bring him a little comfort during a very confusing and upsetting time for us all.

Easier than a radio is an IPad filled with music the person likes or is likely to enjoy. I bought some mini Ipods and moved over 150 digitized songs onto them. Then the staff just had to plug it in at night for recharging and put the headphones on my Dad's head and then hit they play button. It most definitely pleased him and improved his day and he was able to kick back the headphones to hang around his neck when he wanted to focus on something else. You can probably find a young relative to help you get the music onto an IPOD and make sure they verify that the volume of each song is consistent, so that while listening, no song is going to hurt the ears.

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Try look up a dementia music player, you can download all his favourite music on it and he can’t knock it off the station , the volume is set by you and just a wooden lid to play music or put the lid down to stop it, it also has one large button if he wants to skip to next song x

My Father constantly wants to go home, he wants to know why he can't, and how unfair it is. He has recently started to wander and been returned thankfully by the police. He has said he wants to be arrested so he dosnt have to stop here, ( his home for the past 20yrs). He is 90 and lives with my mother who is 83. This is constant, he even barricades himself in rooms and shouts for help. How can we help him, how can I help my mum? I am at a loss.

Hello Lee, thank you for your comment.

We're sorry to hear about your father's diagnosis and feeling as though he wants to 'go home'. It sounds like a very challenging time. Please know that you are not alone, and we are here for you if you need someone to talk to.

You can call our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456 to speak with one of our trained dementia advisers. They are here to listen to you, understand your situation and provide you with support. More details about the support line (including opening hours) are available here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

You might also find it helpful to talk to others who have been or are in similar situations. Within our online community, Talking Point, carers and other people affected by dementia share experiences, advice and offer support. You can browse the community or sign up to become a member: https://forum.alzheimers.org.uk/

We hope this helps, Lee. Please do call our support line for more advice and support.

Alzheimer's Society Website team

I read so many of your stories in the comments crying, but in the same time finding the confort that we are not alone living with the dreadful illness in someone you deeply love.
My grandma had symptoms in the last year, kept repeating things and her short term memory was affected. However, just last week she had a rapid worsening of her disease to the point she is very confused, does not recognise the house she lived in for decades and says she wants to go back to her childhood house. She sometimes stays awake at night and packs everything in the house. In less than 10 days she went from independent to needing someone around 24/7, serving her food, watching her. She has moments when she is even confused about who we are...which hurts so bad.
We are trying to take care of her, but it is so exhausting to stay awake at night to watch her and also care for her during the day, while also dealing with day to day life. But it is so difficult to take the decision of moving her into a facility, the guilt of not being able to do it on ourselves...I am afraid that if we decide on that, the moments when she is in her right mind might dissapear and she will only suffer...I hope that she knows how much we love her and that any decision we may take is for her best interest.

My husband has dementia and has said sor hurtful things . I don’t know what to believe . It has made me so sad. His will l ever know what’s true?

Hi Felicity,

Sorry to hear that your husband has dementia and has said hurtful things – that sounds really difficult.

You may find it helpful to speak with one of our dementia advisers. They will be able to learn more about your situation and give advice. You can call our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456. More details (including opening hours) are available here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

Many people also find it helps to talk with other people who have had similar experiences. Our online community, Talking Point, is a great place to connect with other people affected by dementia, ask questions and share experiences. https://forum.alzheimers.org.uk/

I hope this is helpful Felicity. Please do call our support line for more advice and support.

Alzheimer's Society website team

My husband, when he gets annoyed with me, accuses me of having multiple lovers. Several of whom are gay. This is the one accusation which really upsets me, that and not trusting me with access to the bank account. Which l have never had anyway, even though it is joint. I have always worked so had my own bank account. To have arrived at the age of eighty, been married for over sixty years and this distrust is one of the most horrible elements so far.

Hi Helen, thanks for getting in touch.

This must be a very upsetting situation for you. We'd recommend calling our support line on 0333 150 3456 to speak with one of our trained dementia advisers. They will listen to you and provide specific information, advice and support. You can find more details about the support line (including opening hours) here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

You might also benefit from joining our online community, Talking Point, where carers and other people affected by dementia share their experiences. You can browse the community or sign up for free here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/dementia-talking-point-our-on…

In the meantime, we have information on our website that may be of interest to you. As part of our factsheet on Changes in perception, we have a section on this page titled 'Managing accusations and dementia': https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/symptoms-and-diagnosis/del… You can download the full 27-page factsheet as a PDF (https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/sites/default/files/pdf/sight_perception_…) or you can order resources through the post (https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/form/order-free-publications) - all at no cost.

We hope this helps, Helen - and remember to call the support line if you need someone to talk to.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

I cried reading your article. My mum has been the same with her partner of 30 years. He was mentally and physically punished for something he didn't do. He sadly left my mum as she refused any help from the doctors as she couldn't see the problem. Two years on and a daily battle to get diagnosis. my mum today was diagnosed with vascular dementia and I have been told she has had three mini strokes. My advice is to see your GP and insist on memory test .....good luck and don't give up....just find the help you need. The GP is a good start also your local council can advise you on services available for your husband and for you. Good luck ❤️

So many of us express feeling guilty . I think we believe, or at least hope, we can make things better. I am learning that I cannot fix any of the issues my mother is experiencing. I am powerless. I cannot make her see that she is home, that someone is not stealing from her, that another person is not using her toothbrush, that the clothes in the closet are hers ( they even have her name tags ). She is tenacious in her delusions and a I am horrible at redirecting her.

It takes a village to care for people with dementia. I am so thankful for the support and care provided by a memory care facility. Do not feel guilty for doing the best you can do. Do not let caring for someone else cause you to lose your own life and sanity. You cannot reverse dementia, or stop the inevitable decline.

My mom constantly accuses us of stealing her jewelry and her money. She hid her jewelry and we still haven't found it. I started managing her cash and checkbook since she accuses us of stealing from her. She has over 200.000 in the bank and her house. It's frustrating when being accused of stealing from someone you are taking care of. I have a Pastor and Church family that help me cope, and most of all God who keeps me sane and I'm doing this unto God and not anyone else. That's the only way that I cope. Prayer is the key, and I take it day by day; sometimes, I want to just let my mom go back to her house and stay by herself, but I know that is not safe for her, so my husband and I try to do our best to take care of her even though she may not appreciate us and works against us. My brother also helps out, but he doesn't agree with us having her move into our house and not letting her stay at home. Stay encouraged and pray to God to help you and your loved one.

We're really sorry to hear this, Brigitte - it must be a very challenging situation to be in.

We have information about delusions, paranoia and dementia that you may find useful. It is common for people with dementia to experience delusions (or strongly held false beliefs), which can also take the form of paranoia. Common delusions include theft or believing loved ones are trying to harm them. Read more here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/symptoms-and-diagnosis/del…

We hope this helps for now.

Alzheimer's Society website team

My mother recently fell and it seems to have increased her dementia she does not know where she is , she is asking for her mother and my father who have already passed. I wish I knew how to address the death of her loved ones when she seated she just talked to them. I try the white lie but it’s hard I have never lied to my mom, and she still come back to she needs to get home to dad. What do you tell them about the people that have died if your not supposed to tell them

Nicole, it sounds exactly like my mothers situation. She even thinks that I am her mother instead of her daughter, always asks to call her mother and father and asks if she needs to make dinner for her husband who has also passed. She tells me about activities she has done, which I know not to have happened, but to her it’s real. I try to reorient her when she’s anxious to her surroundings, like look at your wall see your pictures, it’s your dresser, couch, pictures, etc, it calms her when she thinks she’s in the wrong room. She is 90 years old so I’ve found if I say to her, anyone older than you has already passed and all that are younger are still around, she just accepts that for now. It’s not easy at all but I just try to keep up beat and calm, repeating the same thing many times a day. It’s the first time they are hearing it, but many times for us saying it. I say to her you are okay, I will always be here for you. I still can’t get by the lie part but distraction/changing the subject helps. Blessings and prayers for you both.

Hi Nicole, I’ve worked in care for many years now and a lot of residents with dementia often ask where their parents are, or they say I need to go home because my parents will be worried where I am. I usually say, please don’t worry, you’re safe here, Dads at work or Mom’s at the shop, how’s about we have a cup of tea and we can do a jigsaw or a drawing or watch tv. It’s better to distract than to argue their point. I really hope this helps. You have to kind of believe what you’re saying when you’re saying it, as you need to sound reassuring even though you’re telling a white lie. You’re not doing it to hurt anyone, you’re doing the best you can and that takes a remarkable person to do that x

My mother has recently being diagnosed with dementia/Alzheimer’s in the last 6months. She was recently hit by a car and ended up in the hospital with a broken knee and fractured leg. My brothers and I have being trying to visit every day to make sure she is doing ok. Anytime it’s time for us to leave she gets extremely upset and has a panic attack. The nurses in the hospital have told us maybe we need to stop visiting for a couple of days so she will get comfortable, is this a good idea?? She will be going to a rehabilitation centre for a few weeks for her leg to heal. We are just scared that she won’t remember us or that she might think wr don’t care. I need help

Hi Celine, thanks for getting in touch.

We're really sorry to hear this. It sounds like a really distressing situation for everyone involved.

If you're based in the UK, we'd recommend speaking with a dementia adviser through our support line. If you call 0333 150 3456, they will listen to your mother's situation, provide you with dementia information, advice and support. More details about the support line (including opening hours over the Christmas period) are available here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

You and your brothers may also benefit from talking with others affected by dementia. Within our online community, carers, family members and people living with dementia can share their experiences, offer advice and support. Talking Point is free to use, and open day or night - you can simply browse the community, or sign up to join the conversation: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/dementia-talking-point-our-on…

We hope this helps for now, Celine.

Alzheimer’s Society blog team

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