For many of us, the word “home” signifies refuge, safety, caring, warmth and love — a sanctuary where we belong. Home is the place that we know is waiting for us at the end of our daily journey into the rushed and sometimes chaotic world. I love coming home in the evening— even if it is a particularly late night, which happens often. The first thing I listen for when I walk in the door is a greeting from my wife and daughter. Nothing beats a “Hey Honey” and “Hi Daddy, how was your day.”
The actual location of our home may matter little. Yet the meaning of home remains the same: a place of comfort. I work with an associate whose parents just sold their home — and many of their possessions—- and now own a motorhome. Their new address is wherever they decide to park for the evening. How cool is that?
Folks who care for loved ones with dementia have heard all-too-often the repetitive lament, “I want to go home.” The desire to go home could have several meanings. Most-likely, at least in the case of Alzheimer’s disease, the home this person misses is a childhood home. It’s the home where he or she felt the comfort of a mother’s arms; the safety of a father’s presence. My favorite home is the one where I grew up; even the town was called Hometown. It wasn’t the biggest or the prettiest house we ever had, but the time our family lived there was the most memorable for me.
After all, home is a state of mind rather than a building. Even if we could take our loved one to the actual house of his or her childhood, it’s not likely that this structure would bring comfort. A sense of belonging and comfort comes from being with others who love us and will do what they can to care for us.
An experiment at the Parker Jewish Institute in New Hyde Park, N.Y. began when a certified nursing assistant found that she was able to calm a person with Alzheimer’s who wandered nightly simply by inviting him to sit down with her for a cup of coffee and a snack. After his snack, the gentleman was content to get up from his chair and go back to bed.
It is thought that people with dementia are often anxiously trying to go to a place they think they need to be; whether to a former place of work or their current version of home. Providing comfort through companionship and a light snack, as in the experiment above, seemed to help the anxious person calm down and feel satisfied that he or she had accomplished whatever was needed.
When moving a loved one to a new home, be it a senior living residence or other new setting, it’s helpful to bring as many familiar items as possible into a loved one’s new living space. We may find that the most cherished items are the ones from long ago. People with Alzheimer’s move back in time as their short-term memory depletes, so what they enjoy also goes back in time.
Even when we’ve done everything possible to ensure a comfortable, memory-filled living space, it is the love, caring hearts and hands-on support that recreates a home.
Rich DeLong is the Executive Director of The Suites at Station Exchange.
Contact him at 912-531-7867 or visit him on the web at www.thesuitesatstationexchange.com