Jul 7, 2016

Alzheimer's Care Homeward Bound

When we work with people who have Alzheimer’s we recognize that there may be confusion about time and place, but the emotions, the feelings are real. Wanting to go home again, to go back to a place in time when life was not so difficult is a perfectly understandable human emotion.


We don’t have to have Alzheimer’s and dementia to understand what it must feel like to be confused, lonely, frustrated and forgetful.

By Tom and Karen Brenner
Alzheimer's Reading Room

We don’t have to put pebbles in our shoes, or wear over large rubber gloves or put Vaseline on our glasses to understand what it could feel like to be elderly; all we need to do is listen to elders with an open heart and an understanding mind.

We don’t have to have Alzheimer’s and dementia to understand what it must feel like to be confused, lonely, frustrated and forgetful. Every one has felt these emotions at one time or another.


Of course, the difference is that people living with Alzheimer’s deal with confusion, loneliness, frustration and memory loss most of the time. Even though there are many, many difficulties, having Alzheimer’s does not mean you are less than you were; having dementia does not mean you are dumb.

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Often times people with Alzheimer’s and dementia will say to family members or staff at a care facility that they need or want to go home. Sometimes, they can become quite angry and agitated and insistent that they must get home!


In our work with people living with Alzheimer’s we have found that this wish to go home is a way of expressing a deep desire for life to go back to the way it used to be. Of course, none of us can go home again, none of us can go back to the way our lives used to be.

We do not patronize or condescend or pretend when someone tells us that they want to go home. Instead, we tell them that we understand how they feel; we know how we feel about our home. We ask them to talk to us about something special about their home. We need to find out what part of the past is with them when they express this desire to go home.


We were recently visiting with Sadie in a locked dementia care center. Sadie was very concerned that her car had recently been stolen. Now that she no longer had her car, she could not go home, and this troubled her. We knew that Sadie had not owned a car in many years, but we understood what having a car meant to her; it meant independence, it meant a way home.

We told Sadie that we were sorry she did not have her car. We told her about someone we knew who had their car stolen and that it was a terrible feeling. Sadie needed to know that some one heard her. It was good to remind her that she was not alone.


Molly often wandered around the care center where she was living in search of her little boy. She would tell anyone who would listen that her son was only four years old and she could not find him. She needed to go home and check on him. Molly was truly upset and near panic about her little boy. Molly’s little boy was now a middle aged fireman, but telling her this would not have been helpful.

Instead, we told Molly that we knew she was a wonderful mother and that she must have made arrangements for her son. She would never have left her little boy alone! Reminding Molly that she had loved and cared for her son helped calm her fears. As she began to talk to us about her little boy, she grew calmer, even laughing with us as she remembered some funny things about her son.

When we work with people who have Alzheimer’s we recognize that there may be confusion about time and place, but the emotions, the feelings are real. Wanting to go home again, to go back to a place in time when life was not so difficult is a perfectly understandable human emotion.

Tom and Karen Brenner are Montessori Gerontologists, researchers, consultants, trainers and writers dedicated to working for culture change in the field of aging. They are authors of You Say Goodbye and We Say Hello: The Montessori Method for Positive Dementia Care. This book earned the Alzheimer's Reading Room seal of approval.


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Urinary Incontinence -- How We Beat Alzheimer's Incontinence


Original content the Alzheimer's Reading Room