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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 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 helpline 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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56 comments

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Also don't sell a care home as 'its just like a hotel' to your family member they don't think they will be saying.

My father has vascular dementia; when he went to live in the nursing home he said to us he was on holiday in a hotel. We didn’t challenge this, but 1 yr on and he flits between it being a hotel to just visiting. We have started to reaffirm that he lives there so he is safe and looked after- at first it was hard as he cried; now we feel it’s the correct thing to do to tell him but as he can’t remember it’s a sad cycle of telling and reassuring over and over during just one visit of 2hrs he may get upset dozens of times. So I guess it could be different depending on the person. Surely the constant upset of being told it’s not a hotel and the sadness for my dad is worse that being told he deserved the break and to rest and be looked after might be better for him🤷🏻‍♀️
I hate this disease, I can’t stand seeing the total torment, confusion and insecurity he feels.

Hi Michelle,
2 hours seems like a long visit, do you live a long way away? What you describe sounds exhausting for both you and your father. Have you asked the staff how your Dad is between visits and how they handle this? I went through this with my Dad, it's heartbreaking. Best wishes, Julia.

Hi Julia , just wondered why you think 2 hours is a ‘long visit’ and ask if Michelle lives a long way away? I visit my mum in her nursing home every day for at least 1.5/2 hours and I live close by . I think by continuing to see my mum as much as possible she has continuity in her life . If is exhausting both mentally and physically at times but for me a couple of hours out of a day is a small price to pay to sit and chat with my mum to make her feel ‘normal’ I am sure you mean well and I know some people can’t get as regularly as me but I found it quite upsetting that you think 2 hours is a ‘long’ visit for people who may not be with us for much longer

Hi Gillian,

Thank you for your response and I am sorry you found my perspective upsetting.

To clarify I was going by the description of: it's a sad cycle of telling and reassuring over and over during just one visit of 2hrs he may get upset dozens of times.

This description sounds an unhappy and exhausting experience to me but obviously Maria may feel differently and so may you.

I think if all concerned find visiting, whether for 30 minutes or 2 hours helpful, that's wonderful.

The reason I asked how far away Maria lived was because I wondered if shorter more frequent visits would be less distressing but if there is quite a distance to travel that may not be practical. For me and my Dad that works better, but again this might not work for other people. I do not believe or suggest there is a right or a wrong in these situations.

No two experiences of Dementia are the same obviously so people need to find their own way of managing thier own situation. That's why I think forums such as these can invaluable, as different people try to figure out what works best for them.

I hope that clarifies my perspective for you.

Best wishes,

Julia

Sorry Maria, not Michelle!!

Hi Maria I know the feeling too well. My dad got upset and cried. He was always saying he wanted to go home (mind you so were half the residents in the care home). I hate this disease too for what it does to our loved ones. My poor dad was a shell of his former self and we couldn’t leave him without floods of tears on his part (and ours when we got out into the car park). Sending you hugs

There seems to be no thought here that the person with dementia may know perfectly well which home they want to return to and not understand that their relatives don't feel able and / or willing to care for them there anymore. (Sometimes caring for a person with dementia just gets too hard....)

Not always possible either. Sometimes the 'home' they're referring to is a childhood home, not one they had to leave to go into a care residence.

Don’t even lie to a person with Alzheimer’s, remember they are a human just as you are, lying to them may feel like the right thing to do to save their feelings but in reality you are not. Yes they may not remember what you said 10/15 minutes later, but that does not matter, if you don’t know the answer ask a member of staff to help, or again try diversional techniques that help them remember home instead of pining for home, ask them what they remember of their home and their favourite thing to do at home. Usually speaking from past experiences let’s the Alzheimer’s patient remember the good times and heightens their mood. Even for a little while.
Please don’t ever lie to them. They deserve the truth just as you do.

My 91_year old mother started crying for her mother. I told her she was out shopping and we would laugh that she was a shopaholic. A lie , but it made my mother happy and I would say it whenever she asked about her mum.She would bring it up every time I visited .My attitude is that I wanted my mother to be happy and if a lie helped this , then so be it. She passed away but I wouldn't have changed my way of dealing with it..

So you suggest when someone with dementia askes for instance “where’s my husband” you sugggest we tell her “he’s dead “ starting the grieving process over and over again ?

I always tell my mam that I’m waiting for my husband to come and pick us up in the car. Sometimes she’ll get up and walk away but returns minutes later and she’s forgotten so we talk about something different.

Sometimes its kinder especially when they ask for there parents to bend the truth a little as it must be horrendous for them to be told that parents passed away years ago, so I usually say oh they're somewhere around and then move on to a totally different subject like gardens or tv programs and I do think saying that as they are a little forgetful at times they are having a rehabilitation course or break to get them back on track far better than upsetting them 20 times a day but always to try and change conversation after seems to work great and makes visiting or caring for them so much more pleasant for them and far less stressful .

That worked for me too. I used to tell Mum that we would go later after having tea or taking a shower and she would relax.

My Mum lost her twin sister last summer. She asks where she is every day. We used to tell her the truth but the distress she went through as if hearing it for the first time every day was awful. We now tell her that her sister is probably out shopping and she'll call later. That keeps Mum happy. It's a lie but the reason behind it is her happiness. People with dementia live with little of the truth all the time as their mind repackages everything X

My dad thought he was waiting for mum to come out of hospital and was happy with that. Worst thing I ever heard was his wailing when the home staff insisted I told him she had died

They shouldn't have done that. My Mam is always trying to get to her mother to look after her & prepare her dinner, as she did years ago. The staff reassure her her Mam is ok and someone is there with her. The pain in her face when she realises on her own that her Mam & my Dad are no longer with us is bad enough, without telling her over & over again. Such a cruel disease.

The staff should have known better than to tell you to do this. My Mother always said that "her husband" was walking around the hallway or coming back soon. I never told her any different. You should never cause heartache even if they won't remember it later.

When my mum says this, I say you are home. This is your home now and try and change the subject. This is such a difficult and horrible situation for anyone to be in and is so very sad. X

I think the carers in the homes should do more training in these matters x I’m not saying all care homes are the same but I felt dimencia patients were ignored it was a waste of time talking to them . I wish we could have kept our mum at home we saw her every day but I feel we let her down badley 😓

I think that is highly disrespectful. Most places have 8-10 patients per care aid. We don't ignore them but have to spread our time as equally as possible. Remember that at home you were one on one with your family member. We do not have that luxury. Most are incontinent, need feeding,etc and I only have 2 hands. If you feel we are doing such a bad job please take them home where they can get all your attention 24/7 that they deserve.

I agree Tracy, some of the homes each carer look after 12 or 14 rest home level care residents and some dementia unit have 8 or 9 residents and its kinda busy all time, homes need safe staffing

Does anyone truly understand about Alzheimer's, each person is individual, each family struggles to come to terms with the loss of a parent or family member to this . Everyone hurts, its torment, we try or have tried to live and support, but in the end we all loose. Its easier to remember them before they became I'll.

When I ask my mum where home is she says back to normal. She means before her and dad became ill. Dad has Alzheimers and vascular Dementia but mum still being assessed although she has got worse in last few months. Sad and cruel illness and I find it so hard to see and feel so helpless. Wish I could help them more

A nurse I knew told a story of an Alzheimer patient who wanted to go home. One day the staff gave her a "bus ticket" they designed for "tomorrow. "
She held onto that ticket for awhile and stopped asking to go home. It gave her some hope, I think. Which is not a bad thing.

Right this is a subject very close to my heart my grandmother had altzhimers spelt wrong i know for 8 years i was 15 when she died 11 years Feb she's been gone i used to see her every day especially when she was in the home spent all of Christmas day with her once id go up at least three times every day to make sure she was ok i might as well have moved in with her she never said she wanted to come home so we never had this problem but i found it hard hearing her beg me not to leave her people have said my mom was wrong to allow me to help with nan at a young age but if i could id do it all again just to see her for another minutes Treasure every second even when they are being difficult because one day memories are all you will have

Good on you Reece for helping your mum with your nan, no your mother wasn’t wrong for letting you help with your nan. My 2 boys help me with my mother-in-law from time to time who has vascular dementia. It is hard on everyone whatever their age.

Beautiful. Thank you for sharing and for your graciousness with your grandmother. You are a jewel.

My wife was diagnosed with mild dementia in July 2018. Recently she’s been asking me about going home. It’s not an everyday occurrence but it does occur in the morning. I give her a hug of reassurance and try to explain that we are home. She seems to settle down after having breakfast. I found this article very interesting.

I can only speak from personal experience as a carer I found that routine can help with anxiety in a dementia patient even on the really bad days when all your routine seems not to be working. Keep with it because it may be just a identical conversation walking with then to breakfast can be an indication that they have remembered something with in the morning routing to have repeated part of a conversation.
Also sounds silly but the best advice someone once gave me is " Pick your battles" so tour wife wants to wear a green jumper but wear her t shirt over the top. Will it cause harm if left alone?
Will u hopefully have a smoother start to both of your days?
Also just one last thing
Hold your head high, Take 1 hour a day purely for yourself and
Your doing an amazing job and I promise your wife still loves you and is greatful of everything you do,as if roles were reversed I'm sure she would do exactly what you are for her 😊

Does anyone think that as families that come and visit often we find it difficult to reassure our own relatives imagine for the poor staff that have to reassure all of the residents and not only one all day every day several times. Not to mention the challenging behaviour they deal with on a day to day basis. They did an amazing job for my mum when as visited lots i could see the scale of what they had to deal with and do for other. They were amazing with her up to the day she left us the level of care was just outstanding.

My late mum had Alzheimer's and was taken into care, against my wishes, because she had become too difficult to care for alone. I saw her several times a week and called and spoke to her on the phone - the home were very good like that. I did sometimes drop in for a visit for an hour after work but what I did was take her out for the day or evening. That gave her normality because prior to her moving in we did go out and do lots together. We would go out for drives in the car and singalong to CDs, we would go to shows and films and have tea or lunch out. I kept striving to find new experiences for her because that was the kind of person she had been. Always curious, always enquiring. When she asked about dead relatives I would say,'they are with so-and -so or probably shopping/at work' It did the trick. I didnt like lying but seeing how she reacted with the truth was too awful to witness. Hateful illness

I work in dementia care and have had relatives with the condition. There is a lot of good suggestions above however distraction technique being one of them. You have to know the reckons your relatives wil have before being totally honest with them ,breaking there heart again and again is not fair on them. Giving you family a rest is a good option! Please be consistent with the relative in care make sure the whole family are saying the same reason for someone missing or them being in s home otherwise its confusing for them . They will be confused enough them not being in a familiar setting/home etc. Be mindfull of communicating the same information to staff at the home so staff are telling the residents the same reason for them being in the home etc. Try to visit at regular times this helps with them settling in. Tell that you are leaving them at the end of a visit can be upsetting for them please give them a genuine reason as much as possible. Ie you have you much we are having our lunch see you later./ soon etc. Make this a descreate exchange, don't labour over it. You getting up set at leaving them will make them upset. It's hard but be strong for them.
Make the rooms homily familour favourite abject, bedding etc this well help with the transition for your relatives.
Hope this time you go through is uneventful and is a smooth transition as it can be fr your relatives and you.

What to do if person with dementia just doesn't like that attention not on him/her . While there is other people around is not that bad , but it's always around meal times when people with disabilities needs assistance or when other need help getting to dining room or at the evening people go back to they rooms as they tired him/ her gets offensive and angry .
Family don't like to visit person to much as him/her never had good relationship, children said that him / her always been very selfish .
Sorry for the long post.
Thank you

I am a Registered Nurse in long term care and take care of dementia residents everyday, however and most importantly I am a daughter who has a Mother with early onset Alzheimer’s, she is 65 and has had it for over 5 years. As my Mother is effected much by difficulty finding words, repeating what you ask her, difficulty with remembering ADL care, and incontinence she teaches me every single day. From working with My residents with dementia and Alzheimer’s and taking care of my Mom, one thing that is the most important is patience. I stress this with my staff and also my family. It must be profoundly frustrating to not have the ability to communicate what you are trying or even think you are trying to say, If all you do is sit in a room with them, they know you’re there, it is beneficial that Possibly less frustrated to feel like they need to talk. There are many discouraging and painful stages of this life stealing disease, as caregivers we learn as we go, what worked for someone else may not work for your loved one. I was a hospice nurse for many years, and like I’m death, Alzheimer’s has similarities throughout however it is incredibly individual. I leave my Mothers crying some days I leave happy others, I laugh with her I cry with her I have sat for long periods of time only holding her hand and smiling. I miss my Mother, so very much. I miss her tone she would say my name when I was sarcastic, I miss her laugh, it was the most infectious laugh, I miss her terribly. But we have our “love you” conversations everyday, I say I love you Mom she says I love you Mom, and then she laughs sometimes because she’s Mom ❤️ And we probably go on with love you exchanges for 3 or 4 times, but she still gives the best hugs. My heart goes out to all of you who provide care to your loved ones. It is a struggle, but remember to give yourself a hug!! You’re doing a great job!

My mom has dementia, it was impossible for us to care for her and she couldn't stay at her home any longer alone. So my brother and I decided on a nursing facility. At first it was hard she didn't want to eat and always asked to go home. We would tell her that this was her new home and try to make it as comfortable as possible. We had family pictures,her TV, blankets and flowers. She has been there almost a year now and calls it home.

True, these Assisted living are like hotes, they don't feel home at all, the best ones are the ones that are 12 rooms or less and have the feeling of home. It doesn't compare with the personal attention either.

Good article with sound advice. As a Physio I try lots of different techniques to help patients with dementia. It can be so challenging but having family around does really help patients as they can have periods of remembrance. Distraction can help too but it's key to get to know them and some trial and error to help ease their anxieties. Being in hospital is rubbish when your poorly and even worse if you cannot remember why your there. Stay strong, only you know if your doing the right thing (sometimes there isn't one).

I used to be a carer in a dementia home and I found that every single resident was different so had to be assisted differently and for a carer it's the most rewarding jobs and takes someone with a big heart,thick skin and board shoulders u have to react in a split second and be almost mind readers as one day is never the same, you can be asked the same question multiple times a day and can give that individual the same answer 99% of the time to this individual can be satisfied with your answer, but that 1 time it's not the right answer you have to be quick thinking and assess every situation as it happens.
I personally became very fond of quite a few of the residents I looked after and also maintained a professional but friendly raptor with their families too, so much so as to when it becomes those sad and emotional last days/hours it's us carers who show a raw emotion and a level of understanding for a relative who is going through maybe a range of emotions such as loss sadness but also a sense of relief for their parent who is no longer the person they was. For some they have already gone through the stages of grief when the individual has forgotten important memories or personality traits have changed so drastically that the one u once knew so well looks like your relative but acts like a stranger so the relatives that are there at the end know I'm no judge I have seen their good days and experienced their bad days too so I get it why they are numb to it and go through the motions to anyone else it would seem they are uncaring but in actual fact they have already said their goodbye 's numerous of times this is just the practical part that has already been planned.
I take my hat off to anyone who either works within the care sector or the relitive living with relatives who are suffering with this dibillatating disease it is a slow process that I have had first hand experience of witnessing

After reading all the replies, I feel that I am handling my husband's dementia badly .. When he tells me wants to go home, I have gently told him that I can no longer care for him and for his safety he must stay where he is. He has so many delusions about what is happening to him in the facility that I know are not true.
I usually end the telephone conversation at that point and tell him I will talk to his nurse and call again
Most visits end badly. He becomes verbally abusive and I leave before I feel that I am in physical danger. I have been advised that I should stay away for a while as I am a trigger for his agitation. I have been married for 51 years and I know he is scared and sad .I feel a lot of guilt.

Linda, We are going through exactly the same thing with my dad. He and mum have been married 58 years. He has only been in care since the 21st December and gets very agitated and wants to "come home". However, he has no real understanding of where home is. Also we find if we say" no" or "you can't" he gets quite aggressive, especially with my mum. This is something he would never have done. We keep being told its early days for him to settle but its heartbreaking seeing him like this. The care home are remarkable and doing all they can to help him settle. I totally disagree with those who say never lie to them, I try really hard just to agree and distract him as within moments he has forgotten what he was talking about. Leaving him is hard as he does want to come with us but again we distract him or the Care workers do. We have also found that by not visiting for a 2/3 days he is more settled. Seeing us or again especially mum, even though he doesn't know who she is, seems to unsettle him more so we are trying to space the visits so that he gets used to the routine of the home and feel it is his home.
I too feel very guilty, especially as I live 250 miles away and can't just pop in but I know where he is, he is safe and protected and well looked after. The care staff are fantastic and worth their weight in gold.
I hope things improve for you and your husband x

My mother moved into a care home exactly 2 years ago at age 94+ . She was very confused as well as disorientated and very physically frail too. She has seriously declined further since a bad stroke 6 months ago. She has had no mobility since then been bedbound sleeping most of time and communication is minimal with very severe memory impairment. I have always lived some distance from my mum but moved nearer to her last year. I visit once a week as it still takes 3 -4 hours return journey. I spend 3-4 hours + and talk gently to her even if she appears to be sleeping and when she is awake it is often difficult to understand what she is trying to say. She often asks to go back to bed( where she is 24 hours a day) so just needs constant reassurance that she is safe . If she cries/yells out I can't ask her what's wrong as she looks blank and lost at me not understanding the question. I have to ask her simple things like .Do you have pain? Are you comfortable ? and she mostly will say yes or no. It is a desperately depressing situation altogether at this stage. She doesn't recognize me or my brother now and the
nurses are amazed she has survived the last 6 months as she has wasted away but it is stated she must have a very strong heart ! We feel we have lost our mum already because there is so little of her personality there and she is so physically weak. Such a cruel disease . I want my mum's suffering to end.

My mother has had Alzheimer’s for approx 6 years and unfortunately the last four in a care home. In my opinion having seen my step mother in law and now my mother go through this horrible deterioration there are no right or wrong ways. At the end of the day we are all loving and trying to care for someone in the best way we can. It has affected members of our family if different ways and we have all had to deal with this ourselves but keeping my mum’s interest at the front. My Mum’s sister totally blanks me and my wife as she thought we were horrible putting my mum in a home. The best of it I chose the one just around the corner from where she lived rather than the one more convenient to me as I knew she would be able to visit more frequently than me. It only added to my personal stress of dealing with this issue, but then again as I said earlier we all have to deal with in our own way. Always remember we are try to do the right thing for the person we know, and that comes from our relationships over the years. The hardest thing we found to adjust to is never feel guilty about how you deal with issues like where’s my Mum, Dad or Husband. Whatever makes them smile with you is the correct answer. If there upset that means there’s still a little of the real person left. We have to smile at that irrespective of the fact it hurts. Remember there is no right or wrong way. So don’t beat yourself up. Enjoy the time we have together.

As a new nurse 35 years ago we were taught to orient and bring patients back to reality. The medical field has learned much in the last couple of decades. Now we say everyone is entitled to know the truth at least once especially when talking about a death of a loved one. But after that you are not doing them any good. Why would you think causing them grief or stress repeatedly is good for them? As always, you have to take into account what level of memory loss the person is at...

Thank you for your comments. I lost my Father nearly 8 years ago to vascular dementia he did not recognise us near the end. Now my mother has been diagnosed with the same and at the age of 89 she is now living in an amazing care home for the last 2 months. The staff have helped my mother settle in and reassure myself that she is making friends and she seems happy though she does say she misses where she lived but thinks some of her friends from her last complex are living their with her. I just listen and agree though do feel guiltily I do not visit every day due to work and family commitments.

My mother in law is in early stages of alzheimers.,we notice she keeps saying she wants to move back to where she grew up and she says this alot .at the moment we can tell her its not how it was as she is still aware of who we are and its just not remebering words for things and where shes been sort of stuff. But reading this article is making me aware now whys shes saying this and in the future if she does have to go into care what wanting to go home is all about.

I'm not sure it always is 'lying'. Sometimes I think it's entering another person's reality, it's thier truth not mine and I don't believe I have the right to tell a person in this context that they are mistaken, particularly when the resulting grief is so heartbreaking for them.
People with Dementia are adults, not children who need to be taught 'right' from 'wrong' in order to survive 'the real world'. As such I kind of feel that I need to demonstrate respect and defend thier dignity in a totally different way to how would if I was supporting somebody without these deficits.
If I were having a reasoned discussion with someone who did not have a cognitive deficit that would be different.

Watch Dementiaville. It’s enlightening. It’s not lies it’s letting them hear what they want to hear. This has helped me in endless situations. Mum is still at home. She has 3 carers a day. Which if they are safe it’s the best thing for them. I visit most days to see all is ok and chat on the phone. She knows the family. Long may this continue. Mum was diagnosed with dementia about 4yrs ago. She gets a bit aggressive now. So sad to see my loving caring Mum deteriorating month by month. Just keep being as patient as possible

My mum has vascular dimentia she has recently come out of hospital after 2 weeks now she is in a assessment home for 3/6 weeks she is very confused and asking to go home I think after her stay in assessment home is going to make her even more confused when she has to move again either back into her own home or into a care home

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