Coping With Transfer Trauma and Relocation Stress Syndrome
It is said that a change of scenery can be a good thing, but in the medical profession, that’s not always a true statement. Especially when it comes to senior care. Changing your living environment can be difficult for older adults – notably senior citizens – when that person has a complicated medical condition. Often called “transfer trauma,” Relocation Stress Syndrome can occur when an individual moves from one location to another. Among elderly adults, it can lead to a decline in their physical and emotional well-being that can lead to significant health complications and even premature death. It can also trigger depression, psychological distress, and a withdrawal from social activities.
Some individuals are at greater risk of experiencing transfer trauma, or Relocation Stress Syndrome. For example, those with mobility limitations, or difficulty moving around on their own. Individuals who live alone can be set in their ways and have a normal routine. When that is disrupted, feelings can range from mild discomfort to feeling unsafe, and even physically ill. Women and widows of both sexes and those who suffer from a cognitive condition like dementia are also more susceptible.
Occasionally, natural disasters like a hurricane, flood, or wildfire could be the cause of Relocation Stress Syndrome. More recently, residents in long-term care communities have experienced an increase in stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the state and federal mandates that limited visitation, and the risk of closure.
Reducing the Risk of Transfer Trauma
Staying at home is often a big concern for older adults with health issues. Many don’t want to leave their beloved home and familiar surroundings. But there are ways that caregivers and loved ones can help reduce the risk of an elderly friend or family member from experiencing transfer trauma.
First, it’s important to involve the older adult in the decision-making process, if they are capable of making a sound decision. Give them the opportunity to speak their mind and ask questions. Try to keep them informed of what is going on and allow them to participate in the process. If they feel like they are involved in the process, they are more likely to accept the decision to relocate to a new home without making a fuss.
Another way to alleviate stress is to have other family members or friends involved. If the person’s loved ones are collectively working together, the mover will feel loved and supported knowing that everyone is working toward a common goal of helping them get better.
Many times, a move is spawned by a traumatic event or accident, like a fall or medical incident. Sometimes the person in need cannot make a sound decision, either because they are incapacitated in some way, have a medical condition or cognitive impairment, or they are suffering from a memory issue like dementia. Cognitive impairment is when someone has difficulty remembering, learning new tasks, concentrating, or making daily life decisions. Cognitive impairment can range from mild to severe. If this is the case, the relocation is often to a nursing home, assisted living facility, or supportive housing community. These facilities will most likely have trained staff that can help reduce the risk of a new patient experiencing Relocation Stress Syndrome.
Knowing When It’s Time
Moving out of a primary residence – a home – can be an emotional process. Many older adults have lived in their homes for years and have a set routine. They know their way around the property and know where everything is. Many have quite a few possessions and it can be difficult to sort through it all when it’s time to move. Downsizing can be challenging. It’s hard to know what to keep and what to give away. The best thing to do is take it slow if you can. Going through a lifetime of possessions and memories can stir up a lot of emotions. As support, be sure to listen and engage the older adult. Listen to their stories and ask questions. Be sure there is adequate time to reminisce. Sharing stories and memories can be a wonderful time to bond and look back at the full, exciting life that this person has experienced for so many years. It’s important to know that, ultimately, possessions come and go, but memories can last forever. Sort possessions into items to keep, things to donate, and heirlooms to give to friends and loved ones.
One thing that can help considerably is to set up their new space similar to the way their home was arranged. Putting up family photos and displaying cherished bric-a-brac can help a person feel more at home in their new setting. Before you begin the moving process, take photos of how things are arranged at the person’s home, then replicate the look at their new space. For example, take a photo of a shelf that has photos displayed, then put the images in the same order at the care facility. The familiarity will reduce stress and provide a heightened sense of comfort.
Relocation Stress Syndrome and Dementia
Relocation Stress Syndrome is common with early-stage dementia sufferers who are moving into a care facility from their lifelong residence. The length of time and severity of the transfer trauma can vary from patient to patient. For some early-stage dementia patients, the stress associated with a move can be significant, while others may experience no effects of transfer trauma at all. Some may have mild stress, only lasting for a few days or weeks. Thankfully, most of the stress associated with a move is short-lived once the patient arrives, gets set up, builds friendships, and becomes acclimated to new routine and surroundings. Each person deals with it differently, so it’s important to be conscious of the situation and help alleviate concerns whenever you can.
One difficulty that arises with early-stage dementia sufferers is they do not recognize their own deficits and believe they are more than capable of taking care of themselves – when, oftentimes, they cannot. One of the main reasons family members choose to move their loved ones into a community is safety. The lack of awareness and recognition of deficits by dementia sufferers can put added stress on the family.
If transfer trauma does occur, it’s important that it is identified and reduced quickly, or there can be negative consequences like depression, anxiety, resistance to care, and behavior troubles. In some cases, the person may attempt to leave on their own and without warning. Because of this, it is recommended that communities be aware that dementia sufferers are highly susceptible to Relocation Stress Syndrome when they move into long-term care, and a preemptive plan needs to be in place to reduce its effects and duration.
The Premier Senior Living Difference
At Premier Senior Living communities, the staff is trained to build a relationship with new residents and help them connect with others at the community. It’s important to facilitate a sense of purpose and belonging by encouraging residents to do things for themselves as much as they can. It’s also important to make them feel at home. Residents should be encouraged to live a normal, daily life and accomplish basic tasks throughout the day. From simple tasks like picking up and keeping things tidy, watching television, or fixing a cup of coffee or tea to more complicated tasks like tending to plants in a garden, preparing a meal or snack, and bathing. Whatever they can do, and want to do, they should be allowed and enabled to achieve. This is what helps make a PSL community their home.
When a new resident arrives at a PSL community, they are welcomed into a living environment that promotes individuality and enhances their functional and emotional senses. We work with families to educate and support everyone involved in the relocation process, from the individual receiving help to their spouses and extended family. Communication with the individual and the family early and often is crucial in the overall success of a transfer or relocation.
When a move is needed, it can be bewildering at best, and traumatic at worst. But relocation stress isn’t inevitable. When individuals transfer to a quality facility like PSL, distress will be minimized and will ease with time.
PSL communities partner with a full spectrum of home health, hospice and therapy services, including occupational, physical and speech therapy. Our trained professionals will perform an initial assessment and establish a plan to maximize the individual’s functional potential with an emphasis on reducing the undesirable behaviors. The PSL team strives to know and understand the person inside the patient, and will work to develop an effective comprehensive treatment plan.