Everybody likes to go home or at least the idea of going home. My dad wants to ‘go home’ a lot; even when he is already home. I have learned that ‘going home’ is not really a place it is a feeling. My dad wants to go back to the place where things were comfortable and familiar. I am not sure if that is an actual place or a place in time. Wherever it is, we cannot find it.
I have learned that sundowning is an actual condition. It reminds me when I had a colicky baby. She always cried in the last afternoon, just as it was getting dark outside. I dreaded the sun going down because I knew that my new baby would start crying and there was not anything I could do to make her stop. Now, as the day comes to a close, my mom must be dreading the end of another day. Will my dad be in the present or will he be in his 30’s looking for his bride?
His bride. The love of his life. His wife. My mom. She is so strong in the moments that she probably just wants to curl up and cry. She can no longer walk. She can no longer take care of herself by herself. She is stuck. I can leave. I can drive in on three wheels and run to my dad and try to make him remember. Remember that he is ok. Remember that he is safe. Remember that this woman in the wheelchair is his wife. She is not his mother. She is not his sister. She is Ann, Annie, his bride, the love of his life.
But it is not that easy. I cannot make him remember. He usually knows me but when he refers to my mother as Ann, I think he is unsure of who I am. Afterall, when he was 30, I did not exist. Before dementia, my dad was a gentle giant. He was a strong father figure and a smart man. A giver. A thoughtful soul. My dad was my hero. He still is my hero but I find that I am trying to be his hero. I am trying to make him remember.
The good news is my dad does not always want to “go home.” Most days he is content. He may not want to be a Brookdale but he is not living in his 30’s either. So how do you handle a grown man that wants to ‘go home’?
First, you need to find a support group. A group of people that will walk your walk with you. It is comforting to know that you are not alone. In my support group, they tell you to distract and redirect. We have learned that we are all excellent liars!
One night my dad called me because he could not find my mother. I knew that she was right there in the apartment with her but I told him I would call her cell phone and see if I could locate her. I told my dad that mom was at a PTA meeting. I reminded her that she had been president of the PTA and that she would be home after the meeting. My thought was that in time, he would snap out of his mood and would forget all about me telling him she was at a PTA meeting. I was correct. The next day he was fine and had no memory of the PTA meeting.
Next, it is important to keep them busy. This is sometimes hard to do. Schedules are very important to someone with dementia and we try to keep a similar routine. Since it is inevitable that the sun will set at the end of the day, it is best to take advantage of the sunshine during the day. My dad use to love to be outside but my mom would rather be inside enjoying the air conditioning! I believe that if you can enjoy the sunshine and soak up some vitamin D you might be able to minimize the sundowning in the afternoon. Get outside even if you have to make up reasons to be in the sun. It is worth a try!
Stay on your toes. The sun will set and sundowners will return. Your little white lies are for the greater good!