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Moving the Elderly and Dealing with the Stress of Relocation

Moving the Elderly and Dealing with the Stress of Relocation

Moving seniors takes allot more preparation and coordination than expected. Transitioning elderly from one home or area to another involves a combination of physical and emotional responsibilities.

We often underestimate the emotional distress that impacts the elderly during a move. The physical work of packing and moving does take a toll on the person(s) involved, but it is small in comparison to the emotional distress for seniors when it comes to the move. They must almost always have to downsize and move into a residence that is much smaller and which will not hold the years of treasured possessions, causing even more distress.

It is important to take time to communicate with your loved ones and even more important to find a mover that understands the stresses involved with moving seniors. It is vital that all persons involved with the move are communicating with one another. Following are important things you may want to consider before making the big change:

  • Provide assistance with organizing, sorting and downsizing belongings. When helping them make decisions on what to keep and part with, attempt to let them make their own choices as much as possible. Your suggestions may be helpful but remember this is one of the most difficult parts of moving for a senior.
  • Begin the process early to allow ample time for planning the move. Allow your loved one ample time for adapting.
  • Look for resources ahead of time. When you change drug stores, doctors, living environments and so on, you are creating additional stress for the senior. By doing your research ahead of time and finding new senior centers and related social outlets you in essence are aiding in a smoother transition when it comes time to move.
  • Be very careful who you choose to move your loved one. Be sure to research any moving company you are considering. Check for references and customer reviews that share their experiences with the company. Attempt to become familiar with the staff in order to inform them of special needs or circumstances involving the move. This will help in avoiding unnecessary issues during the process.

Every situation is unique, and it is known that the seniors have significantly different needs than those of the average person making a move. It is important to take into account all disabilities and medical issues that are a priority. When you are dealing with any retirement home, nursing home or assisted living there are often more “to do’s” involved to ensure your loved one is successfully moved.

Transfer Trauma from Relocation

Most people do not realize that the stress of moving a senior can lead to a medical condition referred to as RSS or “Relocation Stress Syndrome”. Common symptoms of RSS are loneliness, confusion, anxiety, depression, and sometimes anger. Often changes in sleeping habits are seen, insecurity, lack of trust and a need for excessive reassurance are some characteristics. These symptoms, depending on how the senior handles the change, can last several months and can often last up to a year. One must realize that the seniors are much more susceptible due to the changes in their familiar routine. RSS is also called “Transfer Trauma”.

When working with relocating seniors, patience is a must. You must be supportive both emotionally and physically. The simple act of moving to them is often considered to be a new chapter in their life. Gerontologists (those working with the psycho-social aspects of seniors) have likened transfer trauma to grieving the loss of a loved one. Any divergent from the ordinary is seen as the loss of yet another part of their independence.

Some suggested tips for the day of the move… As with any situation, things happen. Attempt to handle these situations with a positive attitude so as to positively impact those affected around you. It will help them feel more comfortable knowing you seem very calm dealing with these unexpected issues.

  • Make sure you begin your day fully rested. This type of move will take physical and emotional energy with the senior. Make sure your pre-move work is completed at least the day before so everyone can rest before the big day.
  • Explain to your loved one what to expect during the day and how things have been planned to occur as the day progresses. Create a schedule to show them you have everything planned for a successful move. Be patient and answer any questions they may have to reassure them you have it well organized. It is important for them to understand all of the changes and activities that will occur that day.
  • Medications must be kept with them at all times. Packing medications with the movers can become a very serious situation. Also, to help with any added confusion make sure that any prescriptions that are low have been refilled prior to the move.
  • Make it known that you are careful and attentive to their possessions being packed and moved to their new location. Anxiety often comes along with the stress of seeing their possessions drive away to the new location. Assure them the items will be safely unpacked in their new home.
  • Discuss with them where you are going with them. Talk positive about their new home, the new friends they will make, the activities available and any other positives, but never discuss any disadvantages with them.

Reassuring your loved one and being there during this critical time is very important. Their entire life is changing in just a day and being by their side will help relieve a large amount of the traumatic stress that can accumulate during this critical time.

Once you are successfully moved, please make sure that the items which are of emotional importance are unpacked first. Sentimental photos hung on the walls of their new home will make them feel more comfortable and remind them of things that make them happy. Most people do not realize that the single most important thing when helping the senior relocate is to just be available for them once the move is complete. They will have questions, want to talk with you about their new living arrangements, and will feel better when they see you communicating with the staff to ensure their comfort and care is addressed.

After unpacking, you can now help introduce them to their neighbors, have lunch with them in the new dining area, play bingo or do some crafts with them. This will help them to adjust more quickly.

To the elderly, relocating is a huge transition and is not as easy to mentally deal with as they grow older. A positive environment can happen once they become settled and comfortable in their new place. A loving personality and positive attitude goes quite far when helping the elderly adjust to a new way of life in a new home.

Amy B. Van Fossen

Amy B. Van Fossen

(Formerly Attorney Amy B. Jackson)