Close up of a woman looking downwards

‘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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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.

Care homes are certainly not like hotels !

When my residents tell me they want to go home and they need a ride, I tell them I would be happy to take them hone when I leave for the day, they are happy with the answer and they soon forget and move on to something else.

You obviously know your residents well, Carole. 'Therapeutic lying' is often fine, as long as the person is reassured and soon forgets: but it's not a one size fits all response and should always be prescribed in the plan of care.

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,


I agree with you Julia. My longer visits always end with my mother crying and/or angry because she wants to go home. My shorter visits always seemed to go much better. So I've been making them short. My goal is not to make my mother sad or angry when I visit. Just the opposite. So if the visits aren't doing what someone intends, change them. Even not going at all might be best if your visits produce negative results. Many visits tend to be to assuage our own guilt, compassion, love, etc, but may not be doing the patient any good. I've learned when to stay away and when to go.

Good grief. Let’s leave out the judgement. If she feels 2 hours is a long visit, then that’s how she feels. No one should be slapping her down.

I have a question of my mother had Alzheimer’s, and I was always pretty calming to her... if she was acting out, I could usually calm her down. My sister and brother have accused my if stealing all the good times with her! They claimed she would be good with me and horrible with them because I would exhaust her... my father has been diagnosed with vascular dementia. My brother lives with him and helps him... I try to visit everyday, if not, every other... my dad lights up when I walk in...if he isn’t eating, he is in his room alone watching tv. He loves going out but my siblings say it exhausts him too much. What do I do??? I know it is easier if he just sits there all day every day, but what kind of life is that... they say I’m selfish, I want to take him out because I’m selfish! Maybe I am! Help!!!

I don’t think you are selfish.
My mother was just placed in s nursing home by my sisters & aunt that is my moms Poa .
She hates it there & crys wanting to go home.
I’m thinking about getting guardianship & conservator so I can take her out and back home with care.
But I’m second guessing myself on what’s really best for her.
I’m so torn 😪

Lenora m eart goes out to you and all others seeing their loved ones boroughs tormenting disease. Five Members of my family had mainly Alzheimer’s. One had vascular dementia. I refused to put my Mum in a home initially, having her live with us, which only lasted one year as her fir of Alzheimer’s was very aggressive in its progression. She had Lewy Body’s Disease which combines a form of Parkinson’s Disease soMum lost her ability to walk and talk early on. It got to the stage I was on the verge of a break down as my own health issues were being compounded. Sadly, I had to put Mum in a home. No one wants to do it but don’t under estimate the level of care needed. This disease takes not only the person who has it, it takes part of their loved ones with it. I’m Not the same nor will I ever be. My Mum passed away in my arms coming up to five years ago now and I’m still processing the whole experience and managing the grief. I used Togo every day and I too had people say don’t go do often she doesn’t know you visit. She did know and I knew. We all have commitments, family and jobs to juggle so you can only do what YOU’RE able to do without impacting on your own health. IfI can I will include one of the many poems I have written on Alzheimer’s. Sending warm wishes to all of you.

I’m Here

There's a yearning to be with you
Even though you're in front of me,
As you look deep in my eyes
You don't seem to see.

There’s a two way mirror
You’re trying to figure out,
As you search the blank glass
I can sense your doubt.

Knots twist in my stomach
With anguish and pain,
Today you didn't recognise me
Or say my name.

There's a battle in the mind
Destructive and cruel,
With feelings and emotions
Locked in a duel.

People say don't go so often,
She doesn't know you're there,
Your Mum left you years ago
Would she really care?

My Mum hasn't gone anywhere
She's still here in essence,
She knows me instinctively
She still smiles in my presence.

The dark shadows Alzheimer's
Can't dim your loving glow,
I feel it in your caring touch
An emotion you still show.

By Carole Clare

Lenora, there is definitely a transition period for persons going into a nursing home. She may hate it for now, but it may be the safest place for her. Please consider that if you take her out now and later have to place her back in again, you would be traumatizing her twice. Also, getting guardianship can be traumatic. The courts are required to notify the person that their rights are being taken away. I had no choice but to do this because my mom did not have a POA. If your mom did a POA, then she likely made that when she had all of her faculties. If so, she knew her sister would be able to make those tough decisions for her. I hope your mom is able to transition to her new place soon.

I dont think you are being selfish at all. I dont even understand why they are using that word! Why dont you suggest your brother go for a ride with yall. Start out with short rides with the doors locked and maybe longer rides later if all goes good with the short ones. I wouldnt do it every time cause you may not be able to sometimes and he will expect it and be disappointed that you can take him out. I think you are doing great by seeing them as much as you do, value all the time you have left.

Hi my mum she is always saying I won't to die and is very very loud with it to ,and why are you doing this to me and also calling me a pig I always get very upset the staff are wonderful it almost like she can't hear us

I totally 100 percent agree with you, my mum is at home with last stage Alzheimers we all spend as much time as we can with our mum, I sit with my beautiful mum sometimes 3/4 hours I thought that would be very normal to be with your mum , my mum still needs plenty of reassurance from her children that she is loved we do this by just sitting chatting and stroking her hand, no one really knows what she understands but what we do know is she is and always will be our mum whom we all love and adore, that will remain until the end of her life and long after she passes.

My mum has altzeimers dementia,I've never known such a cruel disease I visit mum daily for an hour,it means so much to her,was her carer for 3years,she is a great lady,I know my visit keeps her going,.I always keep my afternoons free to visit her.

I’m thinking the same.
My mum has just moved into a home and she is really sad.
Mew have been let down with no care which ended with her in hospital and now s home . My mum had visitors fir upto 7/8 hrs a day as that’s what she had a home. Family is her life and to take her home away and her family is a struggle for us all x

Hi my mum has just been moved care homes where I can only go twice a week because it’s to far I did bring her home to try her with me again but it was too much and I never got any help from social worker all she keeps going on about is best intrest I’m so heartbroken but social worker don’t care if I was given help home I would have kept her with me not put her somewhere so far from me we should be able to spend all the time we have left with her not less

Personally I wouldn't challenge his beliefs. If it makes him sad to hear its not a hotel then don't tell him. Two hour visits are too long, it must indeed be exhausting. If you are coming from away a visit before lunch and one after would be better and use the opportunity to talk to the care staff.

I visit with my loved one for 4 ton5 hours each day. I feel like I have lost him to the other residents. He seems agitated and keeps asking to go home. This disease is terrible.

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

Hi Maria, i am in much of the same boat as you. I try to go see my mum at least 3 times a week. I was told I also need to give her space to settle in. She’s been in a nursing home for about a month. I wanted to take her home and care for her, but the hospital and rehab center said no way! They wouldn’t release her until we had a suitable nursing home for her to go to. She just had too many health needs now. (At this point I agree with them). I feel so much guilt.
Everytime I go to see her she starts looking for her shoes and tells me there are two suitcases in the closet, I should start packing. She’s going home today! What do you say to that? How do I stay positive. I left after only a few minutes the other day because she was so angry, calling the doctors crooks and accusing my brothers and I of locking her up there, like a jail.
Ugh, lost and heartbroken.

How what you said resonates with me. My father has vascular dementia also and I hate hate hate this disease that has robbed him of so much. He too thinks his Care Home is a hotel. What’s wrong in agreeing with what the dementia sufferer believes in that moment. Why argue needlessly and risk upsetting them. My Dad can get upset without really knowing why sometimes so I suspect a thought pops into his head and he feels the emotion allied to that thought. On other occasions it is obvious why he is upset ie if he recognises someone in the family, or he hears certain music such as Scottish bagpipes, or hears mention of his parents. Dementia is cruel to the person with dementia and also to the family. The grief never leaves you.

Its a hard disease.I work in a home and alot of the residents have some sort of demensia.When they ask to go home ill tell them the same thing,I'll take you home as soon as I get done or someone will be here to get you soon.Most all of them forget about it and when they bring it up again I tell them again.Sometimes I tell them the roads are bad and they will be leaving after that then find them something to do.Fold told or flannel sheets,keeps them busy.All you need is something for the moment,even if you have to repeat yourself over and over.

Its the worst disease one can have, for the person who is going through it and also the person that is doing the careing. My mum has it and it brakes my hart to see her suffer.😭

For heavens sake, Maria.. why would u ever tell ur father that hes in a motel? I understand therapeutic " lying" is for the most part ok. But I dont understand the "motel" part. I've been a working with dementia /alzheimers for nearly 26 yrs. .. that is completely unacceptable....just saying.

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.

I agree Pam. My Dad only recently went into a nursing home and asks many times a day to go home. He does not mean a childhood home, he means his home he lived in until 7 months ago when he fell and ended up in hospital. He knows he's somewhere like a hospital still and doesn't understand why he's still there when he feels that there is nothing wrong with him.

Hi Amanda,
I feel like we are in the same situation. My mother was hospitalized with pneumonia, and at that time, her cognitive decline was really , really noticable (due to lack of oxygen to her brain). She ended up having several months of treatment, so we moved her in with my sister. Long story short, she's now in assisted living. She felt she could move back to her own apartment, but we (her family) all knew she wasn't capbale of driving or being on her own. Now that she's there, she thinks she's well enough to "go home". It's heart breaking and I don't know what to say to her. She is now experiencing alot of difficulties with her memory and it's scaring her. She says, "I'm losing my brain, and I don't know what's going to happen to me." I reassure her that she's in a good place with people that will take care of her, and that all her family are there to support her. I just don't know what else to say to her. Most of the information I see, talks about acknowledging their emotions, and deflecting...change the subject.
How have you been handling the situation with your father?

Just to put it into perspective, my mum in law used to want go home when she was in her own home. She now lives with us and going home is a regular feature of every day after tea. Going home is now wanting to visit an uncle in Ireland who probably died some 50
years ago.

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..

I like how you dealt with this. I believe whatever way keeps the sufferer content is key to them enjoying whatever time they have left. It is also how we Carers can enjoy them at their best. Whatever my Mum believes at that moment is what I use as the ‘truth’.
There are some exceptions to this e.g. when she firmly believes someone has done something unkind to her and it isn’t true.

My mum used to ask for her mum, it took a long time to find the right way to answer her. In the end I found the best way was to say she asked us to come to see you, you have children to look after you now she accepted the most of the time and was happy with the answer.
But on the odd occasion she would say has she gone meaning is she dead and I would say yes. Which broke my heart when she said I would have liked to say good bye.
All I could do was reasure her that she did and was a good daughter.

My wife keeps asking why her mum and dad don't come and see her, I just lie and tell her that they are out shopping that calms her down and she's happy

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 had no intention of lying to my mum but then I was told about the value and effectiveness of “therapeutic lying” by a friend, by staff and also by an Altzheimers help line person . It seems it’s quite common.

My 86 y/o sister asks the same questions every time I visit. It’s a four hour trip for me, but I try to do it 2–3 times a month. When she asks about her husband, who passed from MS after her care for over30 years, I just point my finger up. She knows. She also always asks about our parents and they passed over 20 years ago and
I just tell her the truth. She was fine then, and she even occasionally asks about “my” brother who lost his life in his 20’s. My sister and I are two different generations. She was 17 when I was born and she married shortly after. But she was always very good to me when I was young. I had a brother two years older than me and she had a brother two years younger than her. She’s in a very good home, but I don’t want to go anywhere like that.

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

I always went into my mother's world when she had Alzeheimer's to them everything they believe is real. I cared for my mother for 15 years with the disease and it is easier and less stressful to go into their world with them.

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.

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