Apr 28, 2013

From Facebook, Take Me Back Home and Leave Me There

Yes, you can communicate with a person living with Alzheimer's. However, you must avoid confrontation, long winded explanations, and the need to correct the person.

By Bob DeMarco
+Alzheimer's Reading Room 

Pam Stephan wrote the following on the Alzheimer's Reading Room Facebook page.

Dad has lived with us 7 years. Recently he says over and over "Take me back home and just leave me there." 
We maintain his house - its in another city - and Mom's ashes are there. He won't tolerate a hired person to stay with him. 
But today he said "Take me back home and just leave me there." so many times that I ran away and am holed up behind a closed door now.

How should I respond to him, when he says that phrase? I'm quite frustrated.

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This is not an uncommon occurrence among Alzheimer's caregivers. It can, however, be an incredible emotional struggle to deal with this problem.

First, it is basic human nature to feel hurt when a person living with dementia asks to go home. I say this because it is heartbreaking when someone asks to leave and go elsewhere while you are taking care of them 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. It hurts.

The caregiver can also be greatly saddened when hearing over and over, "I want to go home". The caregiver feels personal sadness, and sadness for the person for whom they are caring.

I had a similar problem and it took me over two years to start dealing effectively with this problem.

In my case the problem came in two forms.

First, my mother would tell me to "get out, that she didn't need me, and that she could take care of herself". Of course, this was completely nonsensical. My mother could no longer even be by herself, let alone take care of herself.

Second, like Pam's father, my mother wanted to go home. Oddly, she wanted to move back to south Philadelphia and she told me this several, sometimes many, times each day.

Amazingly, while my mother was saying she wanted to move back to south Philadelphia she was living in her own home of 30 years. And, she had not lived in south Philadelphia in 60 years.

So yes, the discussions of home can bring confusion, stomach aches, and great heartache to the Alzheimer's caregiver.

I finally solved this problem by directly responded to my mother when she told me "to get out"; or that, she wanted to move to south Philadelphia.

Basically, I would smile at her, put my arm around her shoulder, put my head on her head, and say in a low calm voice - "we are home, you are with me now, and I am going to take care of you".

I might change the words I used from time to time. The goal was to reassure my mother she was home. and to do it without contradicting here. I wanted to reinforce the idea that we were together; and that, I was now taking care of her.

Sometimes, if I could, instead of putting my arm around her, I would pull her in so her head was on my chest, and I was holding her.

One of the keys is using nonverbal communication, tactile communication.  The contact along with a low, calm, reassuring voice are critical to success.

Eventually, my mother stopped telling me to "get out". However, she did from time to time bring up moving back to south Philadelphia. I just used my new found technique and it worked 100 percent of the time.

Yes, you can communicate with a person living with Alzheimer's. However, you must avoid confrontation, long winded explanations, and the need to correct the person.

As a caregiver you get to choose. You can continue to be combative in your response, or you can choose to be proactive, generous, kind and understanding.

All are welcome to put in their own comment, insight,  and advice below.
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Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room (ARR). Bob is a recognized Influencer, speaker, and expert in the Alzheimer's and Dementia Community Worldwide. The Alzheimer's Reading Knowledge Base contains more than 5,000 articles. Bob lives in Delray Beach, FL.

Search more than 5,000 original articles on Alzheimer's and dementia in the Alzheimer's Reading Room Knowledge Base