Managing Relocation Stress Syndrome

Written by Hiland - Senior Lifestyle Expert on Thursday, July 14, 2016

Geriatric care physicians are paying more and more attention to a condition known as Relocation Stress Syndrome or Transfer Trauma. This is a serious, often misunderstood, condition that can pose challenges to seniors and caregivers, who may not understand the full implications relocation.

Most of us who have experienced helping seniors relocate accept the premise that seniors will resist moving and will view change as a threat to their independence. In reality, family caregivers see change quite differently, usually as a move toward a safer, more stimulating environment. Geriatric caregivers recommend family members take the time to learn more about the very real, very intimidating challenges RSS presents to all parties.

What is Relocation Stress Syndrome

The concept of Relocation Stress Syndrome has gained traction over the last 20 years. While RSS is not confined to seniors, it is most generally associated with senior relocations from the family home to a new residence or from one senior living environment to another.

Clinically, RSS is diagnosed as having both physiologic and psychologic disturbances. The most common symptoms of Relocation Stress Syndrome are:

  • Exhaustion
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Anxiety
  • Grief
  • Loss Depression
  • Disorientation

The above symptoms can be exacerbated by existence of other contributing physical or psychological conditions, such as:

  • Dementia
  • Mild cognitive impairment
  • Poor physical health
  • Lack of appropriate support
  • Sensory impairment

When any of these conditions exists in the relocating senior, look for disturbing reactions such as confusion, depression and periods of high agitation. In some cases, physicians report weight loss and/or self-care deficiencies.

Originally, RSS research focused on seniors relocating without consent to nursing homes or assisted living facilities but time has shown that RSS can affect seniors who consent to move to any new location or type residence.

How to Ease RSS Symptoms

Of course, one of the challenges is that family caregivers usually  have their own dependents that need care. Caregivers are inclined to make loving and responsible decisions but physicians emphasize the importance of involving the senior in all aspects of relocation decisions.

The significance of Relocation Stress Syndrome has given birth to a new group of caregivers  known as “senior move managers.” Whether the family is coordinating a proposed move or whether a trained senor move manager is in charge, these tips will help the senior transition in a more peaceful manner.

  • Involve the senior in the planning and decision-making from the beginning.
  • Encourage the senior to ask questions at any time. The senior may require time to digest and consider plans but it is imperative that surprises be eliminated.
  • The senior’s observations and concerns must always be respected and not cast aside. Be patient. Answer all questions thoughtfully and try to see and respect the senior’s point of view. Understand that what is obvious to the caregiver may not be as important as other elements to the senior.
  • Leave no stone unturned when planning the relocation. Encourage the relocating senior by asking for recommendations about placement of personal property and decorations.
  • Account for the senior’s personal possessions and assure the owner that all personal property will be available to them and in a safe place. Never dispose of personal property without permission.
  • The caregiver may see a new opportunity to redecorate or improve safety but physicians recommend trying to make the new residence resemble the old residence as much as possible. Safety must come first but safety changes should be explained. Otherwise, the caregiver is likely to arrive and find the senior has changed to the floor plan. If a compromise makes sense, go for it!
  • Once the move is officially completed, the caregiver should spend extra time with the senior acclimating them to the new environment. This can mean helping prepare meals in the new kitchen, taking walks or interacting with new neighbors. 

Always make sure emergency contact information is posted  clearly in the kitchen. Smoothing out the gray areas can go a long way toward increasing the comfort of the senior and relieving Relocation Stress Syndrome.