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Why does my mother constantly “pack” to go home?

Answered by Karen Garner

February 24, 2016

My mom and dad are both in a memory care facility. My mom constantly “packs“ to go home. She takes all their things including pictures off the walls and wraps them in clothing and packs in her drawers. I want them to have things around them that bring happy memories but it is exhausting to have to unpack them all the time. Is there anything I can do to alleviate this behavior?

Hi Catherine,

I am glad you are able to have both parents at a facility where it sounds they are being taken well care of. Unfortunately, people remember and visualize where they should be living differently as they age and as they progress with dementia.

There are several possible reasons your mother keeps packing to go “home”—try to understand why. Is she comfortable where she is? Does she have enough privacy? Did her and your father move a lot? Is it possible for you to stop and, before you unpack the items, ask her which home she is wanting to go back to?

Listen closely to her stories and you might find an answer. Without knowing how far along your mom is, would it confuse her to get in the car and drive around? Not taking all of the items with you, but just enough to change her scenery and to get out of the environment she was in. You might find when you return to your parents current home, she will find comfort recognizing her space as her home and feel a sense of relief.

Another suggestion would be to bring an old, small suitcase and let her “pack” all she wants. Don’t unpack it right away. Let her things stay for a day or two or even a week. At some point, ask her if she would like to help you unpack, and as you do, ask her to tell you about each item. It will be an activity to do together, and hopefully at some point it will resonate with her she is unpacking and living in a new home. Although it usually passes, this time of wanting to go “home” is not uncommon, but can be frustrating and cause a sense of unease for others who want their loved ones to feel secure, safe, and comfortable.

Thoughts and stories from others

  1. March 25, 2017 at 11:31 am
    Posted by Shelia

    My uncle who has Down syndrome also packs and unpacks every day...the drawers on his dresser are going to have to be fixed the wooden tracks are splintered from the open and closing...yesterday he didn't know me but today he does...any suggestions,I've tried coloring books,memory games, and other things but nothing works..he just wants to pack and unpack. ??
  2. March 29, 2016 at 01:03 am
    Posted by Missy bingiel

    My mom came to live with me when she was about stage 5 Alzheimer's. She could still do things on her own like feeding her self using the bathroom things like that, but could no longer work, be alone, or drive.. Shortly after moving in she was diagnosed with rectal cancer, and had to take chemo and radiation.. It thrust her in to further stages of Alzheimer's. there were a few times coming home from radiation, she would ask why we're going to my house, and I would tell her.. I wanted to spend some time with her, she would come in lay down then she's fine. Try distraction

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