Last time we talked about how to make conversation easier when a loved one has aphasia. Today we’re going to talk about communication tips for Alzheimer’s.
One of the most common – and most frustrating – situations that comes up when a loved one has Alzheimer’s is when, in the middle of an event, Mom or Dad say they want to go home. It’s very common because Alzheimer’s sufferers often crave the familiar. It’s very frustrating for you because often, Mom or Dad expressed a desire to attend the event, you spent time and effort helping them get ready – and then they want out.
And it can be even more difficult and frustrating when they insist on going home – and they’re already there.
Planning ahead can make all the difference.
Knowing that these situations are bound to come up means you can plan ahead for them. Having a game plan makes a huge difference in how you and your family can and will deal. Here we’re going to give you three ways to respond in this situation. You can use them as is or adapt them for your own special circumstances.
Communication tips when a loved one with Alzheimer’s wants to go home (even if they’re already there):
1. Don’t argue.
Whether your loved one is already home or they’re out and they want to leave, don’t turn it into an argument. Telling Mom, “But Ma, this is home,” isn’t going to work. Either she’s unaware of where she is, or when she says “home” she means somewhere else. Here’s a rule of thumb from the United Kingdom’s Alzheimer’s Organization:
If he or she doesn’t recognize their environment as ‘home’ at that moment, then for that moment, it isn’t home.
Sometimes, “home” is a kind of code word for wanting to feel secure and comforted. Whichever the case is, though, security and comfort are the way to go. Keep your voice calm and soothing. Tell Dad how much you love him. Ask Mom what she’s feeling. Your caring and interest might be enough to give the sense of calm your loved one needs.
What to do if it isn’t? Go to tip #2.
2. Give your loved one validation.
If you’ve tried step 1 and your loved one still insists on going home, then you need to try and validate that. The thing is, practically speaking, you might not be able to take them home – at least not right away – and if they are home, then you might feel really stuck.
So the thing is to give them the feeling of validation while gently maneuvering the situation. Here are some ways to do that:
- “Sure, I’ll take you home as soon as I finish folding the laundry.”
- “They’re bringing out Aunt Melissa’s birthday cake, as soon as that’s over we can go.”
- “No problem. You look a little tired, though. Would you like to take a rest before we leave?”
- “Okay. But it’s a little chilly outside. Let’s get your sweater first.”
Notice that in none of these examples do you actually take your loved one home. The idea is to show that you agree, validate their needs and wants, and then have some kind of opportunity to redirect. While you’re folding that laundry you can change the subject. When you get the sweater you can stop in the kitchen for a cup of coffee or a snack. Very often the change will get your loved one’s mind off of “home.”
If it doesn’t – try step 3.
3. When all else fails – leave.
So you tried reassuring, and you tried to validate and change the subject.
But it didn’t work.
A third thing you can do is to really leave.
If you’re already at home with your loved one then you can say, “Okay, Dad, let’s go.” Get into the car and drive around. If you can, stop for ice cream or to run a quick errand. Then drive back home.
If you’re at an event, this can be a bit trickier. If it’s appropriate, you can go for a quick drive and say, “Mom, would you like to go back to the party? Aunt Melissa would love it.” But a better idea is probably to have a “designated driver.” This can be someone at the event who’s okay with leaving early, or it could be a more distant family member who’s on call.
If your loved one lives in an assisted living or skilled nursing facility, you might be able to make transportation arrangements with the staff.
So here are three communication tips for responding when your loved one with Alzheimer’s insists on going home. None of them will work all the time, and you might have to come up with new variations to suit your family and your loved one’s needs.
It’s never easy. But your loved one will feel grateful. Even if they can’t tell you.