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I used to look after a woman with dementia in her own house. By the time I had met her, however, she had forgotten it was her house. From what I could ascertain, she believed that we were staying at a hotel.

“What do you think they’ll have for breakfast tomorrow?” she’d ask me. “This is a nice place, but I didn’t expect to stay overnight,” she’d add.

The human brain is very pattern-seeking. By that I mean, when things don’t make sense, our brains seek to make sense of them. Elizabeth* didn’t recognize her house, and there were always people staying overnight with her, so she assumed it was a hotel.

I think most people would agree that “home” is more than just a physical space: it’s made up of the people and things that bring us comfort. For Elizabeth, her comfort was with her husband and her children, but her husband was dead and her children were grown and had families of their own. So, in turn, “home” wasn’t home anymore.

When your loved one with dementia says “I want to go home,” he or she is really just searching for comfort. Provide your loved one with comfort by talking about people and things that they love. “Home” is a lot more than just a location.

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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