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.

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

  • Angela

    Your suggestions make a lot of sense. I really believe it is best to “enter ” their world as much as possible. We can always easily step back into our own reality. They just can’t. Why force them. They can’t change the way their brain is working any more. Maybe new habits can be formed with a lot of repetition but maybe not. It’s so individual.

  • lois

    My mom was diagnosed with dementia 6 years ago, I have been trying to figure out what stage she is in but she seem to display a little from all the stages. The hardest to handle is her hallucinations, and her thinking someone (usually a family member) is stealing her things. So hides things then I have to go find them. It is so frustrating. Now she is really struggling with her words so she has a hard time trying to tell me what is missing..any help would be great

  • Karin Baugh

    Although she doesn’t pack things up, she is always wanting to go ‘home’. Would the same advice to Catherine apply here?
    It is extremely heart wrenching and stressful for me and my dad when we have to leave her. When we take her to doctor appts or just an outing for lunch, taking her back becomes a real battle. She has been in this care facility now for about 6 months and she still insists that she doesn’t live there. She wants to go home. Mom and dad are both 86 and have married for almost 60 years, so, obviously, her home is with Dad. Dad is hurting. How can I help them?

  • Tracy

    I work
    In a dementia unit in Northern Ireland, a lot of our residents are always packing to go somewhere,which can sometimes be very tiring for them! Like suggested above we just let them carry on! Most times I ask them are they going anywhere nice and can I go to? I love getting into their wee world, and more times that not they start to tell me where they are goin and sit down and stop packing! After a moment or two when the packing memories have passed, I’ll say “oh my goodness look at this mess, we’ll have to get it tidied up before your mother/father comes home!

  • Mjoh

    My mother constantly asked to go home. It broke my heart much as she would cry and look for her own mother, who was many years deceased,

    It occurred to me one day that ‘home’ to her was where she was at the age in her mind. She was looking for her mom and home where she lived at about age 8, or younger. Which is why she also did not know me, her adult daughter, I was lot there in her childhood and she didn’t recognize me. How scary!!!!

    Understanding why is was happening was good knowledge for me but still so hard to know what to do.

  • Mary Barr

    My husband has dementia, he is always wanting to go home, we have lived in the same house for 63 years, I tell him he is home and he wants to go to the other house, thinks he is on the wrong road. Sometimes just out of the blue, he doesn’t know who I am, does not know his son or daughter, when told he can’t believe he didn’t know them. Have a worker comes 5 days a week and walks and takes care of him, night time is the worse.

  • Steve Annin

    My mom is also continually saying she wants to go home. Three years ago I moved into my mom and dad’s home to take care of them. My dad passed away 3 months ago. Mom now goes through a cycle of questions asking where my dad is, asking where her mom is, and asking where her father is (both her parents passed away over 20 years ago). When we talk through all her questions she looks at me and says, “I just want to go home.” I then explain that she is in her home , but I wonder if she’s talking about her childhood home. Any ideas on how I can comfort her?

  • Janie

    My husband has Alzheimer’s and everyday wants to go home! Asked about his parents, that passed away in the 60’s and 80’s! We have been living in the same house since 2003, he should feel comfortable being here, but always wanting to go home!

    Don’t understand!

  • Anita MW

    Steve Annin –
    One of the things I learned in an afternoon workshop about Alzheimer’s is that
    “She / he is always right and I am always wrong.”
    In other words a love one with dementia has a whole new perception of reality. I try to imagine if I was told that I am in my home when I am actually in the library or at church, would I believe people? Would I be afraid they are trying to trick me or maybe be afraid of them?
    What they see, experience and remember is as real to them as the concrete world I experience around me.

  • Anita MW

    I wonder if wanting to go ‘home’ is wanting the familiar comfort of recognizable surroundings or if it’s more. There is grief in all these changes and I think it’s natural to wish to be back in the place (and time) when life was safe and we knew what to expect from day to day; when our role and place in the world were secure and recognizable.
    For spiritual people maybe the desire for ‘home’ is the anticipation of that release to that place they have desired their whole lives, heaven. May we be gentle with our family who suffer, including ourselves, on this very hard journey

  • 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

  • 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. ??

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