If you’ve ever had to relocate your family or have been moved by your parents or for work, you are familiar with the extra stress that can occur when a person is uprooted outside of their own control and comfort zone. Rather than welcomed, the change is met with feelings of dread and uncertainty. In the elderly, this is called Relocation Stress Syndrome, or Transfer Trauma and refers to the upset of the physiologic or psychosocial aspect of a person as a direct result of a move from their established environment to a new location.
Even if the reasons for the move are understood, the alteration to the familiar, daily routine are unsettling in the least and can lead to depression, anxiety, forgetfulness, and overall decline in mental and/or physical health. Extra care must be taken to provide support and to address the fears of the person struggling with the change.
Preparing for a move is tough. Aside from the planning it takes to make the physical move, preparing emotionally can also seem like a mammoth task. It is a good idea to consider how each person directly affected by the move will handle the event. Some people need a lot of time in advance to process and plan, for others less time is needed. If your loved one has dementia, confusion and forgetfulness may affect their ability to comprehend the situation and address the emotions moving may bring to the surface. When working with persons with dementia, it is always a good idea to keep things simple. Almost every person will handle a change better if they have a part to play and something to be responsible for, even if it is very small.
The first step to supporting your loved one is to recognize when they are in distress. Signs of stress for an elderly person may differ from that of a younger adult. Pay attention if your loved one shows one or a combination of the following:
- tension headaches
- indigestion or weight loss
- heart palpitations
- poor concentration/forgetfulness
- sleep difficulties
- behaviors that are unusual
Follow these steps to minimize current symptoms of stress and to prevent further stress and Relocation Stress Syndrome in your elderly loved one:
- Re-establish a feeling of respect, dignity, and autonomy by including those affected in the decision-making process. Let them decide which facility, how to arrange the new space, or which items to pack.
- Make the new space as familiar as possible. Use the same décor, furniture, and style as the old home. Include comfort items such as a favorite bedspread, figurine, or photo album.
- Incorporate old social patterns and groups in the new routine. If your Dad attended AA or a Veterans Group or liked to play golf, set up connections in the new place as well. Make sure they have access to a phone and have the numbers of friends and family they are used to keeping in regular contact.
- Be available and be an advocate. Let them know you will help with any bumps in the road. Listen to their concerns and acknowledge their point of view. Make their goals part of your plan if possible, and help them to accomplish them.
If you’re struggling with this process, or have questions about how to support your loved ones in a life-changing move, a Geriatric Care Manager is skilled in these types of transitions and can help. These specialized Care Managers are experienced and are used to working through challenging situations and with uncooperative seniors. Geriatric Care Managers are Certified and can provide senior concierge services, meeting you where you need them. They also work with persons with disabilities and special needs.
Relocation Stress may take 3-6 months to resolve. If your loved one has developed these symptoms from a move, be patient and allow them to adjust. Moving them into yet another environment is generally not a good idea and may intensify the symptoms. Following the steps above to identify symptoms and providing support early on will help reduce Relocation Stress and its associated risks.