When the person with Alzheimer’s dementia yearns to go home
Have you ever awoke in the middle of the night, startled and confused, not sure if you’re in your own bedroom or still in the nightmare you just escaped? Bad Dreams are made “real” in the dark. Nightfall and darkness bring dancing shadows and spooky sounds and memories of nightmares past.
That’s often how the person with dementia feels if he is awakened in the middle of the night. But his fright isn’t over just because he wakes up. Even awake, the person with middle-stage Alzheimer’s may remain confused and disoriented.
Briefly, his surroundings aren’t familiar, this home is not his own and strange movements and sounds startle him. This is not his bed, not his room, not his home and he has problems discerning where he might be.
Frightened into wakefulness in the middle of the night, someone with dementia can be disoriented as they stumble from their room searching for familiar things; a mate that is long deceased, a familiar pet of his youth, a special blanket that was thread-bare when thrown away a year ago.
Wherever he goes, there is nothing familiar. And he yearns for “Home!” It doesn’t matter whether it’s the home of his youth; Mom and Dad and Siblings. Or the home of his Adult self; a wife with scampering children under-foot. He only knows–he wants to go there–to his authentic home–not this strange place.
The woman in this place claims to be his daughter, but that seems a strange proposition to him. Had he fathered her, why are there no memories of this grown woman in his life when she was a child. He believes she’s explained that away somehow–maybe. He isn’t certain.
As he wanders this empty, dark house, he thinks, perhaps, he’ll leave this place and find his legitimate home. Perhaps he can walk far enough, or ask someone, or a few blocks from here he may recognize his own home. Then he sees the locks on the door. And he has no time to flee before he is discovered and forced to stay in this place.
He is crying and crying. Until the strange woman puts an arm around him and hugs. She hugs him very hard. He thinks it would be good to have a daughter like this one. She must be a good daughter, he thinks. He allows her to lead him back to that strange bedroom, she turns on a low light and tucks him in. He decides to stay here for this night because he is tired now and soon, he is asleep too.
A few Helpful Hints for a good night’s sleep
- 1. A long walk in the evening may leave the patient more ready for sleep
- 2. If taking medications, verify with doctor that anti-anxiety meds may be taken later in the evening
- 3. Try to avoid napping during the late afternoon
- 4. Provide Activities during the day to avoid napping
- 5. Quiet reassurances if they wake during the night
- 6. Don’t confront–that will only escalate the fear or yearning for home
- 7. If they re-dress when waking at night, allow them sleep in their clothes
- 8. No battles at night, Arguing solves nothing
- 9. The caregiver needs a good night’s rest also!
The easiest way to prevent the person with dementia from yearning for home, is to create a world for them that is busy, pleasurable and yet restful too.
It isn’t as difficult as it sounds. Most folks with dementia are easily occupied. A big box of crayons and a meaningful coloring book could keep my Mom busy for hours. She regaled any guests who came to see her with all her pretty colored pages.
Your loved one surely has a favorite hobby: Puzzle books, Folding Clothes, Yard work or Gardening, Sorting magazines. It just takes thinking, and remembering the person they were and what they really liked to do. You may have forgotten and so have they.
A day of activity will help their mind and soul, as well as their physical strength. By evening they will be ready to wind down and perhaps, watch movies from the 50’s or just listen to some music from their era. I never encouraged Mom to be busy in late evening. If they are alert and agitated, it’s difficult for them to follow asleep and they may certainly yearn for home.
When Mom went to bed, she was lulled to sleep with soft music. There are numerous CD’s and Music players to provide a wealth of good rest and sleep for someone who finds it difficult to calm them self.
Mom had an affinity for the gentle waves of the ocean. Calming the person with dementia is a plus! By the late stage, when the person with dementia is haunted with sundowners, their world is a confusion of disjointed thoughts. I think I would most certainly yearn for both my home and my Mom.
Help your loved one to burn their energy during the day, and rest peacefully in the evening and at nightfall.