I remember when I was going to college, many many moons ago, the highlight my educational journey was getting to go “home”. Growing up one of six, with loving parents, I missed my home life. I missed hearing my father’s Sunday morning sermons, his voice booming from the pulpit. I missed my mother’s home-made ash cakes, and biscuits made from scratch. I missed my older brother picking me up and putting me in the “airplane spin”‘. I missed running throughout our house, being chased by my sister who would scream “that’s my sweater, you little brat”…..oh how I missed home. Moving to another state to attend college was difficult for me, but it was a part og growing up and becoming the responsible adult my parents had raised me up be. I spent most of my youth growing up on the beach. The sound of the ocean waves crashing into the shore, the smell of the salt water and the sounds of the sea gulls as they swarmed, were long gone memories as I sat in my college dorm, surrounded by mountains, tall trees, dirt and the smell of pollution.The sounds of sirens replaced the gentle waves of the ocean. I missed home.
Dementia patients miss “home” on a daily basis. If I had a nickle, or even a penny, for each time I heard the words “I want to go home”, I might could put a small dent in National Debt. Home. Home is more than a street address. It is more than latitude and longitude. Home is a place of memories and feelings of welcoming and love. It’s a place of family and safety. Home is a state of mind that cant not be interrupted by anything, not even the disease process of dementia.
When we walk into long term health care facilities, we may notice the high glare floors, the warehousing effect of people gathered together without a noticed purpose; sitting and staring off into space. Caregivers swarm about, meeting the physical needs of the residents, announcing loudly, “Mrs. Jones is wet and needs to be changed again”, to her team partner. Nurses scurry about with medicine cups and tiny bathroom cups filled with water, encouraging the patient to “swallow” the pills. The patient who hollers out “take me home” is quieted with the words, “ You are home.” Home. Hmmmm.
Long term care facilities should be a place of warmth, designed to look like a real home, with caregivers showing their love to the residents, while treating them with dignity and respect. If I were “contained” in an environment that resembled a converted warehouse, filled with people hustling about while the infirmed wander aimlessly about, I too would scream to go home.
We must do better as providers in the long term care setting to allow our residents to feel loved, welcomed and are treated with dignity and respect. We must remember that they too, want to go home. They have memories of their “home”. They too long to be back in a time where they had their spouse, their children, their home, not this institutionalized place. We must do better than what we are doing. Their memories are no less valuable than ours, but rather, they are limited on being able to ever see those memories alive again. By providing person centered care, at least each resident can feel some of the same feelings of being loved, accepted, welcomed, and safe in their home, even if that home is a facility.
Unfortunately, revenue drives large facilities to fill the buildings with as many people as possible, while yet cutting corners on the things that really make a facility a home. Staff. Staff that care. Staff that has time to sit and talk to a resident, and listen to what they have to say. Staff that want to be there, and consider their employment more than just a job that pays the bills. No facility, large or small will ever survive and be successful without good staff. You see, we may can never take out residents back to their “home”. We may never be able to recreate the smell of the ocean, or the sound of the seagulls, but we can make each resident feel as if we are all family. Family. Families love and care about one another…..and when we have achieved that, I believe the resident’s will be more accepting of their new home…..but it starts with each of us….loving each other and treating each other like family.
My childhood home is long gone. I can visit the street address and take a walk on the beach. The very beach, we as children chased frisbees, and spiked volleyballs on one another. I can sit in the church where my father served as pastor. I can feed the sea gulls day old bread. I can email my brothers, or call them on the holidays….I can place flowers on my father’s, sister’s, brothers and mother’s grave site……but you see, it’s not home. Home now is a place where I feel loved by my family and friends and my beloved pets. Home. We all long for it, and wish we could return to those days……..the least we can do for our dementia patients is to create the second best thing…..the feelings of home……love, respect and dignity.
When I was in the youth choir at the church, one of the songs my brother and I sang at least four times a year was by B. J. Thomas. The title? Home Where I Belong. ” Ironic.