by Joan Blumenfeld, MS, LPC
Mom had Alzheimer’s. She had been struggling with it for a number of years and was often quite confused and disoriented.
With great angst she would pace around the apartment, wandering from room to room, wringing her hands and plaintively repeating, “I want to go home! I want to go home!” No amount of reassurance that she was indeed already home could calm her down.
I gently prodded her about what home she wanted to go back to. Was it the home in Brooklyn where she grew up? The home I grew up in on Long Island? Or maybe one of the apartments she had lived in with our father, Mark, first on the west side of Manhattan, then later on the east side? She couldn’t answer me, because she didn’t know herself!
I walked around the apartment with Mother, pointing out significant and valued belongings, thinking these possessions and mementos might make her feel more at ease. I told her she was already in the home where she had lived for the past 35 years. I showed her the large collection of family photos arranged on the sideboard. I pointed out her siblings, her children and her grandchildren for her, and the photos seemed to temporarily soothe Mother, but as soon as she turned away from them, it was as though she had never seen them at all.
In time I came to understand that Mother’s quest for “home” really had nothing to do with a specific house or residence. It was more a reflection of her inner turmoil and the malaise caused by living in a world that no longer made any sense; a world that felt confusing and chaotic; a world that offered little comfort and no security.
So I learned that, instead of trying to convince her she was already home, I helped soothe Mother by simply holding her hand and walking with her. Later, when she needed to live in a nursing home, I hired a private duty companion to spend the day with her, holding her hand, walking with her and easing her troubled mind.
The agitation ended as her Alzheimer’s progressed to its final stages. Mother gave up her search for “home” and reached a state of peace and calm.
Final pearl of wisdom: People with dementia often can’t find the right words to tell us what they need, but we are so used to responding to verbal requests, that’s naturally how our compassion works. With loved ones suffering from dementia, try to sense what they’re feeling, not what they’re saying.
Joan Blumenfeld, MS, LPC is a Geriatric Care Manager based in Fairfield County, Connecticut.
For information visit her web site at joanblumenfeld.com. © 2010 Joan Blumenfeld