Going Home: A New Ritual?

Since Kate’s diagnosis, I’ve read many other caregivers’ accounts of their experiences “Living with Alzheimer’s.” At the most general level, I have learned at least two things. The most important to me is that there is much diversity in the circumstances of all caregivers and the loved ones for whom they care. That should be no surprise. After all, people without dementia are not all the same. Why should we find it different among those with dementia?

On the other hand, I have also found there are quite a few symptoms that are very common. One of those is the desire “to go home.” It is not only something that individual caregivers describe, but it spawns a variety of explanations for why it occurs among PWD. This is one of the ways in which Kate’s Alzheimer’s is quite like those others with her diagnosis.

I don’t recall exactly when this began, but it is something that is clearly more frequent now than in the past. This habit has led me to ask two questions. Why does she want to go home? and what should I do about it? Here are my answers.

Why does she want to go home? To me, this is an easy question. Her memory has declined so much that she no longer recognizes home. She doesn’t recognize any of the rooms in the house. She has to ask for my help each time she goes to the bathroom. Sometimes this doesn’t trouble her. That is especially true when she stops to admire things like the flowers inside and out as well as the shrubs and trees outside. The pleasure of that experience tends to divert her attention from being in a unfamiliar place.

The times when she is most likely bothered by not knowing where she is occurs when she wakes in the morning or from a nap. I believe her wanting to go home comes from a desire to be in a place she knows and is more comfortable. Since we have been sheltering in place she has also wanted to go home when we finish a meal. I think we’ve eaten out for so long that she thinks going home is the natural thing to do after eating.

So, how do I deal with it? When this first started happening, I did what I think most caregivers do. I reminded her that we were at home. As natural as that may be for a caregiver to believe appropriate, it doesn’t generally work for Kate. From what I have heard form other caregivers, it doesn’t work for them either. It had a momentary impact on Kate, but she would immediately forget and ask again.

That’s when I learned to tell her that I would be glad to take her home. This was before Covid-19. I would take her to Panera and get her something to eat and drink or just drink if it was close to a mealtime. This worked well until sheltering in place. Now I drive her around for 10-20 minutes and then return home. That has not failed yet. I say “yet” because she made me think she was onto me after dinner the other evening. About five minutes after leaving the house, she looked at me and said sternly, “Now, don’t try to trick me.” I said, “I won’t do that.” That is all that was said. We arrived home 15-20 minutes later, and she was happy. I don’t know what she was thinking about when she warned me not to trick her. I don’t really believe it was an awareness of what I was doing, but it sounded that way. Maybe I was just feeling guilty.

Anyway, I have found a way that through the time of this post has worked every time. That is not to say it will work in the future. If that happens, I’ll have to think of something else. I really hope I continue to be successful. It doesn’t require any elaborate plans and can be done rather quickly and effectively. What more could I want?

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