Do Alzheimer's patients want to go home? Or are they longing for a time and place when they were safe and secure and knew every one's name and face?
Alzheimer's Reading Room
In the comments section under the article, Is Alzheimer's World an Irrational Place?, our reader Sue asked:
My mother is 89 years old and she has moderate to severe dementia. She currently lives in a CCRC but everyday she will tell people that she wants to move back to her home state where she lived for some 60 years. What is the best way to handle this... it is so sad to hear.
My mother repeatedly said she wanted to move back home to a place where she had not lived for over 60 years (South Philadelphia).
And yes Sue, I know how you might be feeling, the sound of her voice, the look on her face they often made me feel deeply sad.
Saying I want to go home, to a place from the past, is a common occurrence among the deeply forgetful (people living with Alzheimer's or a related dementia).
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When my mother first started saying, I want to move back to south Philly I really couldn't understand why. But she said this most nights (around 9 PM) for several years.
Once I made my way into Alzheimer's World. I started asking myself, Why?
Why does Dotty want to go back to a place where she had not lived since the 1940s.
I finally concluded over time that my mother was really looking for the comfort and security she experienced while living with her parents and living in a safe secure place surrounded by people, places, and faces she knew. Family, close relatives, close friends.
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I understood that Dotty's short term memory was gone.
I think this is one of the keys to understanding dementia. The ability to retain new memories was gone. Dotty couldn't remember -- right now.
However, Dotty's long term memory was still fully intact.
Mom where did you go to first grade? Saint Monica's she told me. By the way, that was in 1922.
One day she told me about how she use to ride on the truck with her father, and how his customers would give her candy. And then she told me something I had never heard before.
That truck her father was driving was pulled by a horse. The engine was a horse. That story made me happy.
The experience she was describing happened in the 1920s.
Dotty could sing the words to songs. She once sang a song I had never heard before in my life -- Ghost of a Chance. This song was first made popular in 1932.
So, I finally concluded, after asking myself why, that Dotty was longing for a time that remained fresh and understandable in her mind.
A time when she was safe and secure and knew every one's name and face.
I decided right then and there that I would make Delray Beach the safest, most secure place that Dotty ever lived.
I started putting my arm around her more, I rubbed my check on her check, and I started telling her how wonderful a place, and what a safe place Delray Beach was - and how lucky we were to live here.
I didn't wait until she told me she wanted to go home.
When Dotty would say she wanted to go home I would respond directly, and say,
I don't want you to go anywhere, I want you to stay here with me, its you and me now.
It took a long time but eventually she started making that little Dotty smile, and said, okay.
It takes a while to imprint something into the mind of a person living with dementia. You have to keep trying and be patient.
I understand that for those of you with a loved one living in a nursing home the situation is somewhat different. You will have to tailor your words to the situation.
However, please understand this. It is the feeling, the warmth of your words, and the reassurance you are conveying that will make the person living with dementia stick to you like glue.
You might also try stating clearly and concisely that the thought of them living far away from you makes you sad, and you want them near you.
What is the Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Test Your Memory for Alzheimer's (5 Best Memory Tests)
The First Sign of Alzheimer's Short Term Memory Loss
The Seven Stages of Alzheimer's
Bob DeMarco is the Founder and Editor of the Alzheimer's Reading Room (ARR). Bob is a recognized influencer, speaker, and expert in the Alzheimer's and Dementia Community Worldwide.
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