“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place we can go as we are and not be questioned.” -Maya Angelou
Home has a fluid definition with a different answer given each time the word is brought up. Home is the topic of movies, TV shows, plays, songs. It is a place that is more than the structure that gives us shelter, but also the people and the life we live inside. It is personal, sacred, unique, safe. For some, home can be dangerous, tense, nothing more than an address. A home is frequently seen as a marker to how financially successful one is in life, though that is never what it should be. It is, in a phrase, a complex place filled with ups and downs, family and loneliness.
Entering into a further partnership with Distinctive Renovations, as we design a training and conversation curriculum, I think of the heaviness the word Home can bring for those living and working with dementia. Do you stay at home? Do you move in with a loved one? Do you move into long-term care? “I want to go home.”
In the world of aging in place, we, the care team and industry employees, fight over the terminology used and have long discussions as to how much technology should be used by our loved ones with dementia. We talk about the cost and the care needed. We get tunnel visioned, wrapped up in this spiral of thoughts and information that we and forget to check in with our loved one to see how they really feel about what home means to them. With many well-intentioned actions and decisions on the part of the family and care team, we forget the reason for the conversation and turn a difficult subject into a business decision instead of a personal one. How can we refocus on the one we claim, and in so many ways do, care for with dementia? How can they guide us?
I think we can start by asking ourselves, “What is home?” How do we define Home right here, right now? What about our home is transferable? Meaning what about the current home does not rely on this exact structure or location? What makes us feel safe? Most ourselves? What about home brings rest, relaxation, tension, stress? What don’t you like about your home? What about the structure makes this place home? Is it the neighbors? The nearby shops, parks, community organizations? The ease of moving around or the garden outside? Challenge yourself to deep dive into this topic for your self then ask yourself, “What if it all went away tomorrow?” What if a fall, a diagnosis, a financial shift caused you to have to pick up and leave? What can you recreate where you live next?
For those living with dementia, these last questions are the reality of their lives. As a member of the family or care team think of our own answers and use that as the foundation for a conversation with your loved one. Seek to understand what Home means to them. Look and see what the best place to age is for this individual? And, wherever they may live, help to make that place a home by incorporating elements both seen and unseen into this home that stem from the conversation. May each person be safe, wealthy in community, and able to live their life knowing that they have a home, one that does not question but shelter and protect.