Planning a Successful Move

Two Tips for Reducing Relocation Stress Syndrome in Vulnerable Elders

Moving can be stressful for mentally and physically healthy people, but it can be downright traumatic for older adults who have dementia, Alzheimer's, or other degenerative brain diseases that impair cognition. If a move involving loved ones in this category is not handled correctly, they can come down with relocation stress syndrome. Here's more information about this condition and what you can do to prevent it.

Relocation Stress Syndrome

Also sometimes referred to as transfer trauma, relocation stress syndrome is a cluster of symptoms vulnerable elders begin to display after being moved from one living space to another. These symptoms can vary in number and severity and manifest differently from person to person depending on their personality, any diseases they may be struggling with, and the coping mechanisms they may have developed over the years.

Some of these symptoms include:

  • Mood swings
  • Displays of anger, depression, or sadness
  • Behavioral issues such as combativeness, excessive complaining, or yelling
  • Physiological disorders or complaints such as pain, confusion, rapid heartbeat, and sleeplessness
  • Becoming withdrawn or isolating him- or herself
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Refusing to care for him- or herself
  • Aimless wandering around the living space or trying to leave

These symptoms may last a few days or several months, depending on the person. Relocation stress syndrome must be treated as soon as it's recognized or diagnosed. Leaving a vulnerable elder in such a state of distress can result in a deterioration of remaining neurological functioning and compromise the progress of treatments for other mental or physical health issues. One study involving up to 134,200 elderly people found that those who moved were two to four times more likely to pass away than those who stayed in place. Therefore, it's essential that you do what you can to minimize the risk of your loved developing this problem.

Preventing Relocation Stress Syndrome

There are a number of reasons why a person may develop relocation stress syndrome. However, the most common reason is the person may feel a loss of control over his or her situation. This is particularly true for people who may are fiercely independent but have been forced to rely on others because of age or illness.

One way to reduce the risk your loved one will come down with transfer trauma is to include him or her in the decision-making process as much as possible. This may require you to plan the move further out in advance so there is enough time for your loved one to become comfortable with the idea of relocating. However, fostering a feeling of empowerment by letting them have some say in the process can reduce feelings of helplessness and make your loved one think he or she still has some control over the situation rather than the situation having control over him or her.

For instance, it may be helpful to find a moving company that has a senior relocation specialist or someone with experience handling older movers. These people will typically understand the special needs associated with relocating an elder and can take additional steps to ease the process for you, such as talking to the senior about his or her needs and making the appropriate notes to ensure the moving staff honors them.

Unfamiliarity with new surroundings can also contribute to the onset of relocation stress syndrome. People with cognitive disorders like dementia rely heavily on the familiarity of their surroundings and routines to help maintain a sense of self and cope with the unsettling life changes they are going through. Disturbances in either of these areas can produce feelings of anxiety and other negative emotion.

Another thing you can do is arrange the new living space so that it resembles the old space as much as possible. A professional moving company can provide invaluable help with this task. You can provide the movers with photographs of your old home and have them unpack and set up your new space in the exact same way (or as much as possible). This way, when you finally arrive, the home will look and feel familiar, which may lessen the impact the location change has on your loved one.

For assistance with moving to a new property, give a local moving company a call.