While all of our NVNA SUPPORTS groups are unable to meet in person for safety right now, our team continues to support our community. Our bereavement support groups have started meeting by phone. Check out this new article written by our Dementia Care Specialty Program Director, Joan Wright, CDP, CADDCT. Joan is still available to help guide you through this caregiving journey email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.
How do I respond to my loved one asking for his/her mother or wanting to go home?
These are two common statements our loved ones with dementia say – even when they are in their own homes, and when their mother has long since passed. Our impulse is to remind our loved ones that they are home, this is their home, and that their mother has died. While our intentions to reassure through re-orienting them to reality are good, the response evokes just the opposite. Our loved ones are not in our reality at this moment and trying to bring them back causes only confusion, potential debate, and sadly, grief and despair.
When do we want to go home?
When do we want our mothers?
When we are afraid, feeling unsure, feeling abandoned.
Our loved ones are operating purely from emotions. Their world does not make sense and is more often than not, not within our daily reality. And possibly, they know on some level that things are off, but, they can’t figure it out. So when we re-orient and try to use logical statements to reassure them, it creates great confusion and defensiveness. They debate because they feel challenged, perhaps even embarrassed, and most often, angry that we are disagreeing with them.
So, rather than entering the debate, instead let them know you hear them by validating how they feel. For example, respond with “I know you want to go home” rather than telling them they are home or this is their home. Follow with, “but for right now we’re going to stay here.” That lets them know you are not merely dismissing this and brushing it under the rug, so to speak. Using terms like “for now” and “for right now” lets them know the door isn’t closed and this isn’t forever. Most importantly, it isn’t NO.
If they are asking or looking for their mother, reassure them that “she is okay and in a good place”. And perhaps reaffirm that they are too by adding, “and you are safe too.” If they express concern for their mother by saying she must be worried about them, suggest that their mother is happy to know they are so well taken care of and in a safe place. Again, respond to the emotion behind these statements – typically worry and perhaps feeling somewhat lost.
We should always follow their lead (cast with their words) with how to broach the subject of someone being dead or gone. If they ask where the person who died is, reply that they are in a good place. If they ask did that person die or is my mother dead, actually using the words meaning death, then you can confirm she is but she is at peace now and how wonderful is that. Or, if they don’t believe in an afterlife, comment on what a wonderful woman she was . . . start a positive reminiscence. Use your loved one’s sense of spirituality to help them find comfort in the answers you give.
Offering comforting words rather than a definitive answer is a compassionate way to acknowledge and validate feelings while easing “worry”. Yet some family members may question this approach and feel by being vague or “clever” in a response, they are lying. In the end, how we approach these emotional moments should be based on what will provide the best outcome for our loved one’s with dementia. What gives us the best chance at offering a sense of peace and preserving their dignity? Follow their lead.