“I Want to Go Home.”

October 7, 2010

This is the tragic, perennial statement of all dementia patients.  As everything they see loses familiarity, they search for that most basic place of safety:  Home.  “Home” probably is not the place where the patient is living now.  To the patient, home is usually where they grew up, if they lived for a long time in a particular house.  My grandfather always wanted to go home, back to Limestone, TN, the community in which he was born.  Not much had changed in Limestone since his childhood.  The WPA had brought electricity and running water in the late 1930’s and early 40’s, but otherwise, it looked much the same.  However, he did not recognize it.  “I want to go home.  I want to go to Limestone,” he would say as we drove through this tiny community.  Nothing looks familiar.  Nowhere is home.

So the dementia patient’s perpetual search for home is a search for familiarity.  You can help provide the patient with this.

One way is through “reminiscence therapy,” a technique using old photographs, old stories, favorite music, familiar readings, etc.  Most dementia patients remember things from their distant past, not the recent past.  Go through old photographs of friends and family.  Listen to the patient’s favorite music from his/her teens and twenties.   Sing those songs with them.  Read familiar works, scripture, poetry — anything that helps the patient feel safe and the environment seem familiar.

Art therapy can often tease out familiar memories from the patient.  My father-in-law was able to draw things from his distant past, even after he had lost his language function almost entirely.  Music therapy is the same.  When my father-in-law was in the hospice unit, less than 24 hours before he died, he had not spoken in several months.  However, we discovered he could still sing the familiar church hymns he grew up with.  It gave him something familiar, and it gave us a way to connect to the man he had been.

Whatever helps the patient feel safe and loved will help them feel at home.

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