Home: "What Residents Are Really Looking For"
“Home is where the heart is” is a common expression that most people agree to be true. What is home? Or even better where is home? One who has worked with the elderly cannot help but observe the phenomenon of “finding home”. Some residents in long-term care facilities (nursing home or assisted living) will seek permission to go home. This request typically occurs in the late afternoon and early evening. Brushing this off as a “period of confusion”, the typical response of most caregivers is “You are home. This is your home.” That conversation may go on for a while, unless the caregiver diverts the person’s attention to something more calming than the thought of wanting to go home.
The typical approach would be to give the person something to eat or drink or take the person for a walk or even better, engage the person in a more productive activity. The goal is to find something that would take the elderly person’s mind off the subject until the next day, when she begins asking for home again. One day, I decided to take this conversation a little further.
Instead of distracting them from the question, I engaged it. I asked one of the residents, “Where is home?” She gave me an old address in Garland which I verified from her niece to be the resident’s childhood address. She described the golden lab-retriever that waits on the front porch and the white fence with a swinging white gate. She told me her Mom would usually pick her up around this time about 3 PM so she does not understand “why she has not made it yet”. I assured her that I have a room where she can sleep and that we care for her. With that I took her by the hand and showed her to the dining room and served her a good meal. After dinner, I got her ready for bed. She was thankful for the room and went on to bed not mentioning “going home” again. Tonight, she found home. Tomorrow, we start a new day and may run into the same scenario. She may always be looking for that home that she remembers, but I am just glad she found home tonight.
In the next few articles, I will be writing some anecdotes of “finding home”- mostly true experiences I have had working as a nurse in various environments. I will identify some themes that are evident and some not so obvious of what constitutes a home for the elderly person with or without dementia. It is certainly more complex than what anyone would think. When a loved one is moved from one environment to the next, a certain period of adjustment takes place, causing confusion, agitation and depression.
What do you think? What could residents be looking for? Share your thoughts or your own stories in a comment below!