Home on the Range

Range Riding Cowboys

“Going home” is a theme for people with dementia. “I want to go home” is the most common thing Alzheimer’s patients say, according to a nationally recognized expert on Alzheimer’s care. These individuals may express the desire to go home even when they are in the house where they have lived independently for many years. So what does “home” represent in such cases? Childhood? A state of feeling taken care of? A plane of existence beyond this one?

My father, who has advanced dementia, has been in an assisted living facility for almost four weeks. During that time, he declined from being able to walk slowly with assistance, to relying entirely on a wheelchair, to being bedridden. For several days recently, he ran a fever, slept a lot, and wasn’t talking. One morning, because he could not be roused at all, my mother thought for sure he was about to die. (I have asked her to notify me immediately, in the future, should she have this impression again.)

To Mom’s surprise, after the morning passed, Dad woke up and ate his lunch. He even “wolfed down” the tiramisu that was fed to him for dessert (following scallops and pesto pasta; I can only imagine how they topped that menu for dinner). We suspect my father had a negative reaction to a drug that should not be given to individuals with Lewy Body Dementia. He was actually able to join the other residents in the dining room a few days later (although his condition continues to fluctuate).

Something that happened while my father appeared to be in a deep sleep made an impression on me: he began singing “Home on the Range.” You know, where the deer and the antelope play? I wasn’t in the room, but in my mind, I can hear him articulating the cowboy ballad in his pitch-perfect baritone (even though I know the disease has weakened his voice almost to a whisper). As Dad vocalized the verses, Mom joined in. When asked later about his little concert, he had no recollection of it.

Dad has always been a fan of Westerns, so his choice of ditty tells me he is still in there, despite the strange things he sometimes sees and says. And if he temporarily slipped off to another realm and was remarking on the scene, even if just in a dream or a hallucination . . . I am happy to know it was a place that felt like home, an idyllic setting where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day.

A hospice worker who dresses with a Western flair happened to visit shortly after the incident. My father was easily able to maintain a lucid conversation with him about the glorious cowboys of yore.

4 thoughts on “Home on the Range

  1. Jeanie Burns

    I’m sorry to learn of your father’s rapid decline, Karen. I know you have to enjoy the moments of lucidity when they come, if they come. I saw a compelling special on Alzheimer’s some time ago that showed that many patients who’ve often been completely unresponsive, will suddenly become engaged when they’re provided with headphones attached to iPods loaded with music they listened to in their youth. Music can connect us with things buried deep.

    1. karengreenfield Post author

      Hi, Jeanie. Thank you for your thoughts; I know you have first-hand experience with a loved one with dementia. One enjoyable moment of lucidity happened the other day, when I was visiting at the facility. My mother asked my father if he wanted to open his eyes to see me. From his bed, he said, “Approach, my child.” We thought that was really funny.

  2. Julie Gardner

    What beautifully articulated thoughts, Karen; and “Approach, my child” made me smile.
    I’ll be thinking of you and your family this holiday hoping you’re able to enjoy moments of lucidity and happy memories of “home”.


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