Relocation stress for seniors can be real issue
Contributing columnist Lenna Scott GRID: Senior column tease pic
Updated: March 14, 2013 1:28PM
For the family of a senior, the decision to move may seem simple. Mom needs more care, Dad can’t manage the home — a move is the obvious choice. However, senior relocation experts warn that moving a senior can create a very real trauma known as relocation stress syndrome.
Mary Jo Zeller is the Director of Gero Solutions. At a recent education event for senior care professionals, she spoke about the challenges of relocation stress. “It can be as significant as moving across the country or it can be as simple as moving across the hall, but it is real. Relocation stress or transfer trauma refers to a set of symptoms and outcomes that result from a transfer from one environment to another.”
Zeller understands that oftentimes the move is necessary, so the challenge for those working with a senior is to minimize the stress to the individual. “It’s about giving that control back,” Zeller explains. “What tasks can we give the senior that they can be successful at and can give them some control during this process.”
Most important is to focus on minimizing the change in the environment. “It’s the change that’s creating this anxiety. We try to duplicate their comfort zones and duplicate their lifestyle. What are the things that are going to truly make a difference or that person.”
Zeller says this can be as simple as making sure if the water glasses were always in a cabinet to the left of the sink, then you try to keep them in a cabinet to the left of the sink in the new kitchen.
She reminds families that it’s important to remember that many seniors have been living in the same place for an extended time. “You can’t expect people to be transition specialists if they haven’t done it in a long time.”
She also cautions families not to rush the process. Too often families take time to be present on the day of the move, but then return to their lives leaving the senior alone in a new environment.
She suggests having different family members stagger their visits over the first few weeks or months if at all possible. “It can take over 90 days for the person to adjust to the new environment. It’s the little things that create this disorganization. The whole activity level goes down and people are feeling abandoned in this new environment.”
Zeller’s simple tips include:
• Create a moving plan with the senior to contribute to their sense of control;
• Involve the senior and assign tasks that will make them feel successful;
• Minimize change in the new environment wherever possible;
• Promote coping by validating that moving is stressful;
• Provide support after the move.
Lenna Scott is the Director of Marketing at The Wealshire, a short-term rehab, skilled nursing and assisted living community in Lincolnshire. She lives in Buffalo Grove with her husband and two children. Contact her at email@example.com.