Like many, I’ve had a variety of residences in my lifetime. After each move, within no time, I considered myself to be at home in my new surroundings. What do those with dementia mean when they continually say, “I want to go home”?
I’ve learned the answer to your question the hard way. As COVID-19 began in 2020, I collected some clothes and a few bare necessities and moved my mother out of her assisted living to live safely in my home. Almost every morning, she asked, “Isn’t this the day I am supposed to go home?” I always replied, “This is your home now Mom, you live here with me.” She would say, “I was only supposed to stay for two weeks.” Other times, she would ask for her suitcase, wanting to pack her things.
Frankly, it hurt my feelings -– after all, she was with family, safe from the virus, being very well cared for and enjoying activities! As time passed, it became necessary to place mother, who is 100 years old, in a memory care community.
My sister and I cleaned her apartment and lovingly chose to take her favorite treasures, hoping to make her new room feel like “home.” I suddenly realized why she had so often asked me about going home. She had lived a long time in my guestroom, filled with my furniture and my treasures. She basically had had nothing to call her own. She had been expressing a need to connect with a life that had given her independence, comfort and security.
What is your definition of home? Is it a safe haven, a comfort zone, a place filled with warm and happy memories? Although my mom has a beautiful room, sits in her favorite chair and is surrounded with all her special things, I’ve painfully come to know that she hasn’t, for one moment, taken ownership of this space. In fact, she tells me quite often, “This is my last day here.” She always seems eager to go.
As cognitive abilities decline, the mind becomes a swirling cyclone of fears and unknowns. I think of Dorothy, in “The Wizard of Oz,” caught in a cyclone, and her never-ending thoughts were, “There’s no place like home.”
Our job as caregivers and families is to reassure our loved ones that they are safe and cherished. We will never begin to know the maze they reside in, searching for – but never finding – their “home sweet home.”
Share your questions, challenges and successes: email@example.com. Your submission may be published; however, all submissions will be answered. Karen Cochran Beaulieu, a resident of Sumter County, is the author of the book, “Moments that Matter; a roadmap for caregivers and their loved ones with memory loss.”