“I recently moved my mother to a nursing home and she keeps calling me and telling me she wants to go home.”
“I dread visiting my father in memory care because he always asks about going home.”
What do you do when a parent in a nursing home, or any type of senior living arrangement, asks about going home? We hear this question a lot at Working Daughter and we’ve been faced with similar situations of our own.
First of all, as in all things caregiving, try to approach the situation with equal parts courage and compassion. It takes courage to have difficult conversations, to stick with a difficult decision, or to make one at all. It takes compassion to understand that your parent may be feeling lonely, scared, frustrated and that they may be grieving a time when they were living in their own home, fully in charge of their own life. The courage and compassion formula is a useful framework to keep in mind as you address your parents’ questions.
Second, try to listen first. We understand just how uncomfortable it is to hear a parent express sadness or fear. We also know it can feel downright frustrating to have the same conversation over and over again. Our instincts in those situations are often to respond quickly. But pause. And listen.
Keep in mind that as a person ages, perhaps they’ve been widowed or lost a close friend or several, their world often shrinks. They have fewer people to confide in and rely on. You may be your parent’s closest and safest source of support. While it can be difficult for you to hear – you feel guilty or sad about the situation – that may not be their intent. Your parent may just need someone to talk to about their feelings. Have you ever called your best friend to complain about your partner? You’re not actually looking for advice; you just need a safe place to vent. Maybe your mother just needs to be heard that she is scared. Maybe your father just wants to talk to someone about the things he is missing.
As caregivers, we are problem solvers. Often, we go into hyperdrive because we have to. We learn to do herculean tasks, manage seemingly impossible logistics, juggle the needs of many and the demands of our jobs, our children, our parents, our communities. Fixing and solving become our go to mode. But wait! If your parent is indeed going to be in their living situation permanently, there may be nothing to solve. In that case, try to address their feelings instead of responding to their words.
Here’s how that might look:
When your mother says she wants to go home, maybe you ask, “Are you having a tough day” or, “Do you miss your garden?” Actively listen to your parent’s concerns and feelings. Validate their emotions and let them know that you understand their desire to go home. This may require sitting with your own discomfort. But the payoff can be truly connecting with someone who needs to be heard.
Sometimes, there may actually be something for you to solve. As you listen, ask your parent about the reasons they want to go home. Maybe they miss a particular item and you can bring it to them. Maybe the temperature in their room or apartment needs adjusting, the food is bad, or there is another issue a staffer can address. In those cases, you can consult with the staff and healthcare professionals involved in your parent’s care. Discuss your parent’s concerns and explore possible solutions.
If your parent has dementia or memory loss, you may have these conversations repeatedly. In these cases, follow the above steps – listen and respond to the feelings, and then try to redirect the discussion. Sometimes the home you parent is referring to, isn’t the last place they lived; it might be their childhood home or a lake house where they spent their summers. In those cases, listen and then make a connection that moves the conversation away from going home. “Wow what was it like sharing a bedroom with 4 brothers,” or, “I’ve always loved kayaking on that lake.”
Remember, home isn’t always a place. Home is a feeling, and as your parent’s child, you bring a piece of home with you whenever you visit.