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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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362 comments

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My mom is 71. She’s lived with us for almost 3 years. I eventually was up most nights as she would wander and I was afraid she’d fall down the stairs as she would forget where she was and go into different rooms in the middle of the night. She was often confused and required assistance for meals, showers, meds, finances. It broke my heart to put her in a home in May. I love her so much but her safety especially with my going back to work was at risk. She begs regularly to come home. I decorated her room and she took it all down. She has been there over a month and will not sleep in the bed. She cries when I go there and asks me where she is, what the address is, why I put her there and how can I sleep at night knowing what I’ve done to her.. When I take her out she is happy (but regularly confused) and when I bring her back and leave she seems worse. She is so angry if I don’t take her for a drive and yet is so upset after I do. I cry often and feel so guilty. I know she needs the care. The place is wonderful but I wish I could have kept her here. Trying to soothe her while she is so angry and upset while also trying to deal with missing her tremendously makes me feel so sad. It’s such a hard thing.

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My 99 year old mother is in residential dementia care transferring from hospital for assessment. She doesn’t have capacity but has for the whole time been fixating on going home wanting live-in care. This is unlikely to work as she would be confused and not like or accept someone else in her house. She couldn’t be left overnight. Taking photos/memory items to her doesn’t work and any little treats are seen as trying to get round her. She is unhappy that I can make decisions but doesn’t understand the need for it.l am seen as despicable and the baddie in the situation. Visits result in her ranting and both of us distressed. Coping with elderly relatives as we ourselves get older is difficult. I empathise with some of the problems others are going through

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My father has had a severe stroke, which left him unable to use one side of his body. He is incontinent,in a wheelchair, and must be taken out of bed on a hoist. He is also in the middle stages of dementia and is having delusions.. He has been in a skilled nursing facility for a year. He wants to stop my sister's power of attorney and sign himself out to go home. He has friends who say they will care for him . They are not trained caregivers. At least one is expecting quite a bit of money to care for him. Also, his house is not set up for someone as disabled as he is. Still, he might be legally able to do this if he is not declared incompetent. If he goes home, we fear harm will come to him. He will be back in an ambulance again shortly.

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Either you or your sister need to apply to the probate court for an involuntary conservatorship of his person and his finances. They are two separate things. If you guys dont want the responsibility the court will appoint a conservator and will get paid by the estate.

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Thanks! My brother is going to do that.

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My sister feels she has "abandoned" her husband by putting him in a memory care facility. She goes for a visit and he begs her to stay there with him when she tries to go. What can we do for her? Her health has declined again, like it was as a 24/7 caregiver.

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Hi Karen,

Thanks for your comment, and sorry to hear that your sister's health is declining again.

We have some information on our website that you might find helpful. There are some useful resources on this page, which is specifically around managing emotions and accessing support after a person has moved into care: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/help-dementia-care/care-homes…

If you or your sister would like more information and support, then you may also find it helpful to talk with one of our dementia advisers. To speak to an adviser, just call our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456. You can find more details about the support line here https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

Really hope this helps, Karen. And please do call the support line for more information and support if that sounds helpful.

Take care,

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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Don’t think I will go to my grave beating myself up about putting my husband into a carehome but the carers coming in confirmed it was dangerous for him to stay at home with all his constant falls. He had vascular dementia, epilepsy and COPD. He was in carehome four months and then in hospital with infections where he passed away after five weeks. My guilt is not bringing him home to pass away. Lockdown was a nightmare only seeing him at end of life..The guilt I feel is awful.

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Yvette, we are so sorry to learn about your recent loss.

Our dementia advisers are here for you on 0333 150 3456. They're available seven days a week: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

You may also find it helps to talk with others who may have gone through or are going through similar experiences. If you think this would help, you can visit our online community, Talking Point, for peer support: https://forum.alzheimers.org.uk/ It's free and open day or night.

Cruse Bereavement Care also offer support, advice and information when someone dies: https://www.cruse.org.uk/

Please do call our support line if you need someone to talk to during this difficult time. You are not alone.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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Husband in care home for respite. Now social services say he can't come home.surely as it was only tempory I can bring him home. Thinking of seeing a solicitor.

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Hi Pamela,

We're really sorry to hear about this situation with your husband.

There's some information in this blog article which you may find helpful: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/blog/moving-out-care-home-during-coronavi…

Each case can be different, so if this does not help please do call our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456. One of our dementia advisers can give information, advice and support. https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

Hope this helps, Pamela.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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My mum want to go home to where her brothers are. (Sadly they died years ago).
I used to drive my mum round for 20 minutes till she forgot.
Now my car's broke down I use another tactic.
I say they are decorating and that she can go back tomorrow when they've cleared up and the paints dried.
If worse comes to worse I ring my brother and he pretends to be the one decorating and he says what a mess the place is in etc.
Just the thought that she will be going home at some point settles her.

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Keith what a wonderful way of doing something meaningful with your mum. Sorry to hear your car broke down. I am glad to hear you've found a plan B. We teach this all the time, "to live in their reality".

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My mother in law came to live with us almost a year ago. She has started telling us she wants to go home but when we take her to her house she argues that this is not her house or her things and demands we take her to her home! But she has no idea how to get there. She has been diagnosed as having dementia. She gets very angry at her son and I don’t know how to handle it.

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My mom has been in a nursing home for almost 9 months now. Recently I decided to talk to a therapist because the guilt was hard to deal with and the phone calls with her are never good. Tonight for example she left a voicemail telling me that I must have the devil in my head and she doesn’t know what happened to me that I would put her in such a place. It was a long voicemail with plenty of insults. I am the only daughter with one brother who is 12 years older then me and he is having a lot of medical issues and my other brother passed away in 2005. The therapist has helped me but it is still so very hard to listen to her voicemails or talk on the phone with her. Our 20 minute visits once a week are usually fine and we can talk about my grandkids or other family members. She will always bring up that she doesn’t want to be there and gets upset when our 20 minutes is over.
I wish there was some type of comfort I could give to others going thru the same thing with their parents t but all I have to really say is that you are not alone and try to be easy on yourself.

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My mother has dementia and just went into a nursing home a few weeks ago. She is very upset with us "kids" as she wants to go home. She says she misses her place and being able to cook for herself. And said she misses feeling useful as there is nothing to do in the nursing home. She was crying yesterday..( I have never seen her cry) saying that we are awfully for dumping her in there, without giving her a choice. She is still very sharp...so its difficult to change subjects. Because she knows what your doing. And explaining anything only upsets her...and she has a reasonably argument for everything we say. I feel horrible that she is in there. And I would take her if I could. But I cant at this time. She said she feels herself getting more and more unhappy. (She is usually a happy person) And that we might as well have shot her with a silver bullet. Because she does not want to live there her whole rest of her life. The staff have said that she is telling them also that she wants to go home. We thought it would be better after her 2 week quarantine. But it's not gotten better. The recreation department said she has very much enjoyed the recreations. But she tells us she does nothing in there. I'm not sure if its because she does not remember or that she does not want to admit she likes something about the place. Because of Covid we are not able to even visit outside. Today she threatened to walk home. Is there some way to make her happy? Or understand that we were not being terable kids who abandoned her there? If you talk to her it's hard to catch her dementia, unless you asked certain questions...like what happened yesterday or who she talked to yesterday.
Can you please give me and my siblings some insite.

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i’m in the same boat but my husband of 50 years. it’s hell watching them!

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I wish you the very best with your husband. I hope that his and your new life will be as happy as it can be.

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Hello, this is my first visit to this website, you have just described my mother and our situation. I don’t have any suggestions but just wanted to say thank you for your question.

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Thank you for your reply.
My mom surprised us by saying that she has finally excepted that she will be living there. After she called the police twice saying my sister was keeping her keys and wallet we thought she would never except it. But I think with the fantastic staff and love and support from family, She realized we were all trying to do the best for her.
I found at first I was trying to placate her by saying maybe on a few months when I moved she could live with me. I think it helped for a few days...but ultimately it just confused her and slowed down the acceptance. I think they go through the same steps as a person who lost a loved one. Disbelief..confusion...denial
..sadness ..bargaining..anger..and then acceptance.
She is now looking forward to getting her own room eventually. And is starting to nest. Asking for face cream.. her clothing, jewelry and a few of her favorite things.
I'm now hoping she will make friends and that covid restrictions will be lifted soon.
I wish you and your family many blessings..I hope all goes well.

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The rules covering dementia and care in general are inhuman to the sufferer snd loved ones especially when the dementia is in the early stages. My wife has dementia following a subarachnoid brain haemorrhage. I wish to move to Sheffield taking my with me (to a care home). But the obstacles are horrendous.asshe is in the early stages she needs family support

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This is my first time on this website. I just got out of work and my mother-in-law called. She tried calling my husband and when he was unavialable she called me and said she wants to go home. I don't how to deal with it. She's in such a lovely facility with all her familiar furniture and photos, books, nick nacks, but it isn't home. Thought I'd check online for what and what not to say before I called her.

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Hi there Ruth, thanks for leaving a comment.

It sounds like you might benefit from talking with other people affected by dementia within our online community, Talking Point. Feel free to browse and read others' experiences, or you can create an account to reply and connect with others. You may find similar situations to your mother-in-law's shared there: https://forum.alzheimers.org.uk/

You can also speak with one of our dementia advisers by calling the Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456. They will be able to provide you with dementia information and advice. (More information about the support line, including opening times, here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line)

In case it helps, here's another article we've shared about what not to say to somebody with dementia: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/blog/language-dementia-what-not-to-say

We hope this is useful, Ruth.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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My grandmother she doesn't remember Anything she is talking to her self . She is 86 years. She has an anger when you try to talk to her I think it started 4 year ago I do really think what should I do please help 😭😭😭😭
I am 15 years old

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Hi Thembisile,

Thanks for getting in touch, and sorry to hear about this situation with your grandmother.

If your grandmother doesn't already have a diagnosis of dementia, then encouraging her to see a GP would be a good idea. You may find this page on our website helpful:
https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/symptoms-and-diagnosis/how…

Once a person has a diagnosis, they will be able to access a wider range of support.

You may also find it helpful to talk to one of our Dementia Advisers, who can learn more about your grandmother's situation and provide relevant information, advice and support. To do this, just call our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456. You can find more details and opening hours here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

Hope this is helpful, Thembisile. Please do call our support line as they'll be able to give more specific advice for you.

Thanks,

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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You obviously care a lot about your grandma. This is a hard situation. I'm 37, and I'm having trouble with it! The best thing I did was educate myself about what it means to have dementia. It's important to understand that the things your grandma is saying and doing are not truly what she wants to say or do. She has a disease that is affecting her brain. Treasure the memories you have of her before dementia. Know that those memories are who she really is, and now this disease is changing her brain. It is very sad. Whenever you can, tell her you love her. Ask your parents about what kind of dementia she has and learn more about it. I'm sure your parents are under a lot of stress too. This is such a difficult situation and you seem like a wonderful grandchild.

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I'm so sorry you're going threw this with your grandma. Just remember what is happening to her is part of the disease. And so is the Anger...but it will eventually subside.
Just remember no matter what happens, she is your grandmother and all she needs from you is love, because she will never stop loving you.
Please take care.xx

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My mum fell and broke her arm on 10th March. The orthopaedic doctor did not want to admit her as they were not going to operate just put her in collar and cuff. She was admitted anyway?? For 2 weeks we were unable to see her so phoned every day to see how she was. She was confused on days and it wasn’t until the second week she had been in that we were allowed to speak to her on the phone. Then we got a call to say we could go up as she was critical. She had caught pneumonia in hospital and I stayed with her through the night on Thursday 25th and Friday 26th then she passed away Saturday morning. We are so angry and hurt we could not see her for the 2 weeks and have now found out the hospital guidance is that a patient who has dementia and confusion should be allowed a visitor.
She went in with a broken arm and is now dead it was horrific what we saw and I feel so guilty for letting them admit her and not knowing how she was over those 2 weeks without us there.

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Wendy, we are so sorry to learn about your recent loss.

Our dementia advisers are here for you on 0333 150 3456. They're available seven days a week: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

You may also find it helps to talk with others who may have gone through or are going through similar experiences. If you think this would help, you can visit our online community, Talking Point, for peer support: https://forum.alzheimers.org.uk/ It's free and open day or night.

Cruse Bereavement Care also offer support, advice and information when someone dies: https://www.cruse.org.uk/

Do call our support line if you need someone to talk to during this difficult time.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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My grandmother has trouble doing daily activities,she usually doesn't recognize people and tends to say she wants to go home.It has been hard for my mom and if any one could give advice on what to do, that would be very helpful.

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Something I would like to say to all of you who have Dementia/Alzheimer's Disease that runs in the family as I do. Do everything you can to avoid getting this terrible disease in yourself. I know many doctors and non-doctors think it is unpreventable. But I have been doing a lot of research (googling and videos) and read a lot of how to potentially avoid this disease and others. Dr. Daniel Amen is one of my favorite resources. It's all about what we put into our bodies. It's a super healthy way of life. And if I am wrong, It's still a win, win because I will be healthier for it. Processed Refined Cane Sugar is a big problem. Also, for some great help on dealing with those that have the disease, I recommend Teepa Snow! She is a leading expert and I trust her.

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My mother has advanced dementia but still recognises us.
We have always been an extremely close-knit family. Despite the fact that she makes repetitive sounds a lot of the time, she sometimes says words very clearly such as "home" or "don't want to be here". It's heartbreaking to think she might feel we've abandoned her especially during lockdown when visiting is very limited if at all. Previously she had a minimum of 3 visits every day. My question is "should we consider taking her home and try to look after her ourselves". We all have jobs so it would be on a rota basis. She is wheelchair bound and needs help to do everything. My dad is his 80s. All I want is the best for her and for her to feel loved.

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My heart breaks for you. We have a similar situation with my mother. Both her and our step father moved from their own home to an independent living facility in October, 2020. Then they went into assisted living in December, quarantined for 2 weeks, then my stepfather had to get a blood transfusion, so 2 more weeks in quarantine, and then he passed away earlier this month. Now Mom is alone, her memory is failing, and none of us can visit except for 20 minutes once a week, with only 2 people. She's obviously scared and upset and wants to "go home." We've also talked about bringing her to one of our homes, but none of us are set up for that. The place she's staying is very nice, it's just that without company, I'm afraid she's going to go even deeper into the dementia world. Best of luck to you and your mom.

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Thank you for your reply. I'm so sorry to hear that your stepdad passed away recently and my heart goes out to your mom and you all. It's such a  dreadfully sad episode in our loved ones' lives and a time when they most need their family around them.  To be unable to provide the comfort they need, due to Covid-19, is so heartbreaking and the fear of them deteriorating further so worrying. My head tells me that my mam is getting the best care where she is but my heart is saying she needs to be with her family. Please God restrictions will be relaxed soon and we can all get to spend valuable time with our loved ones and wrap them in our love. I will never be able to repay the carers who look after my mam in her nursing home for being a surrogate family in our absence. I wish you all the best too.

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Hello Annamaria,

Thank you for sharing this. Would you be interested in telling us more about how things have been for you and your family within a blog article of your own? We'd particularly like to know about your feelings around the long-awaited reunion with your mam. If this sounds like something you'd like to do, please email [email protected] and we'll help you to get something written up.

Thanks in advance,

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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Trying to care for a loved one at home can be very problematic. My mother took care of my grandmother for 8 years with no help from her 4 siblings. It was a nightmare for her and flew off the handle many times. During this time she told my brother and I to promise to put her in a (nice) facility when the time came as to not burden us. My grandmother had make my mother promise to not but her in a facility (back then they were horrible) so my mother carried out her wishes but it nearly cause my mother a nervous breakdown. So a year after my father died, we realized that my mother could not live alone. I remembered her words and my promise to her and we placed her in a facility. Some years later I got a job as an Activity Coordinator in a different facility. I will tell you that facilities are also problematic. From the one I work at to the one my mother lives at. I hear similar stories about all of them. But for me, the bottom line is, I fulfilled my mothers wishes. I look after my residents like they are my parent the best I can. But I get to go home at the end of the day. For those that live with a failing loved one, it's torture for all involved.

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