Displacement: What Does “Home” Mean?
Dementia affects every individual differently. But there’s one idea that persists in the minds of just about everyone with the disease: home.
“I want to go home.” “Can you take me home?” “I won’t be here tomorrow; I’m going home.” “I have to get home to make dinner/take care of my mother/feed the dog.”
It used to distress and upset me when my mother would ask where her home was while she was living with us. Then, as I researched dementia, I learned how common the desire for “home” was, even among people who actually were home, and that when the person says they want to go home, it isn’t necessarily a particular home as such that they miss but the feeling of safety, security, the feeling that they know where they are and know that they belong there. What it really means is that they want to go back to a time when things made sense.
What does the idea of home mean to a person?
When we realized that my mother couldn’t be alone any more, we investigated several options. I considered a nursing home and actually registered her into one, but as soon as I left there I began crying like a baby and didn’t stop for at least an hour. I canceled the placement. Then we found an assisted living facility for her and moved her in for a “trial” period, which was a disaster. She felt abandoned, told people she wanted to die. We moved her back to her home. It was clear she wasn’t ready yet.
Our ultimate solution was to buy a multifamily house so that we could move in and bring her in with us. We could each have our own apartment yet be close enough so that we could care for her and try to keep her safe. This was my husband’s idea but I was reluctant. I loved our home and didn’t want to give it up. The answer we found was to rent it out, planning to move back into it at a later time. We found a beautiful three-family house in our neighboring city; we moved my mother into the first floor and we took the second.
We were three displaced people, trying to make a new kind of life in a situation we didn’t know how to handle.
I liked the new house and the neighborhood, but in two years I never really got to feel that it was “home.” So when my mother broke her hip last spring and it finally became apparent that she wouldn’t walk again and couldn’t come back to live with us, we found an assisted living facility with a dementia unit for her and began making plans to move back to our “real” home.
We’ve been back now since November. My mom has been in her place since June, and she seems to have settled in well. She still occasionally talks about going “home,” but never for long, and she doesn’t get upset anymore. I don’t tell her that where she is now is her home, but I think that she instinctively knows that she’s safe. If home is where peace of mind is, then maybe my mother does feel once again like she’s home.