How do you know when you're home?
That question is often on my mind, especially when a member of our online support group The Purple Sherpa Basecamp shares that their loved one wants to go home because they don't recognize they're living in the place that's been home for them, sometimes for many years.
Here's what I recently wrote on my personal blog about this situation:
While caring for my dad through his years living with Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, I learned that cognitive changes made it less and less possible for him to adapt to anything new.
So how might we think about the request to go home? Again, from my blog:
Here’s what I think: I think home means familiarity, security, safety.
When I was caring for my dad, I worked to surround him with things that once had meaning for him. Sometimes the meaning lingered and sometimes not.
My dad loved the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, so I stocked the kitchen with cups and mugs that displayed the Yellow Jacket logo. I bought him Yellow Jacket t-shirts and throw pillows. Sometimes our home looked like a tailgate party gone awry with all the Georgia Tech merchandise, but I found that it helped to orient my dad to something that mattered for him.
Even though my dad seemed to forget about my mom (who had died about 8 years before he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's), I could tell that he recognized her photo, so I kept plenty around. Once, late into dementia, he even pointed to a wedding photo and said, "She was my person." He couldn't tell me anything about her or their marriage with words, but the look in his eyes told me that seeing the photos was an anchor for something important that he knew on a level deeper than words.
I tried lots of other things to help my dad recognize that he was safe, among people who knew him and loved him, where he could be comfortable: music, art, knick-knacks, even toys from my own childhood that he'd used during our playtime.
Like anything else with dementia, sometimes these cues connected for him, and sometimes they didn't. But I think the message landed: he was home.
How can you bring elements that represent safety, security, comfort, and history into your loved one's space? What do you think they'd say if asked to answer the question, what is home for you? Let that guide you.
Author: Julie Fleming
Julie provided love & care for her father, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease in the fall of 2011 and with vascular dementia in 2014, until he died in 2017. And she had to learn it all the hard way. Sound familiar?
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