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In the best of cases, major life transitions are most often experienced with a mix of apprehension, excitement, and curiosity. Adults are typically eager to embrace new opportunities, yet, by the same token, frequently experience varying levels of anxiety towards the changes that come along with transitioning into an unfamiliar environment or life circumstance.
Moving can evoke a plethora of emotions, as the individual is triggered to process that which is being left behind and embrace a new reality in a place that is unknown. For seniors who require assistance in their daily routines, moving is very often not their personal choice and is most commonly accompanied by heightened levels of stress, frustration, and bewilderment.
In medical terms, moving from one location to another puts seniors at risk of Relocation Stress Syndrome, or transfer trauma. RSS refers to a combination of physiological and psychological disturbances that an individual exhibits upon being transferred from one environment to another. In elderly adults, transfer trauma can trigger depression, distress, and social withdrawal. There are multiple factors that exacerbate RSS symptoms as well, including dementia, mild cognitive impairment, frailty, lack of social support, and sensory impairment. As a result, older adults become confused, depressed, and agitated, leading to increased falls, weight loss, and self-care deficits. RSS also presents a risk of premature death because of the decline in physical and emotional well-being.
With awareness and appreciation for the grave impact moving can have on seniors, it is worthwhile to focus on how to best prepare older adults for their transition to a new environment and make an effort to minimize the stresses of moving, wherever possible. We’ve compiled some practical tips and resources that can help caregivers prepare older adults for a smooth transfer to a new place of living.
1. Keep the planning process collaborative.
While some older adults are limited by a medical condition or cognitive impairment, it is helpful to allow those who are capable of making sound decisions to feel they have an active part in planning their move, as much as possible. Discussing the possible changes and outlining the details offers clarity and a sense of control in the transition process.
However, there are many cases seniors in which seniors are not given the choice of moving, and circumstance requires that they relocate to a new place that is far from ideal in their opinion. Relocation for older adults frequently occurs as a result of a fall, accident, or medical incident. Family and caregivers may need to arrange for moving because of a crisis that suddenly made them aware that a higher level of care is now necessary. They also may gradually come to feel unequipped to provide the appropriate support and opt for better care services in another environment. In such circumstances, seeking out ways to honor the older adult’s preferences regarding where they will be moving to, as well as taking a tour of relevant options may somewhat ease the transition and allow for better outcomes in their new place.
2. Offer support throughout the moving process.
Involving family and friends in the moving process can alleviate the feelings of abandonment or loneliness that many seniors experience when exchanging their familiar surroundings for an environment that is foreign to them. Family and friends can be asked to casually engage the senior in conversation about their upcoming move while taking care to offer validation for their concerns and disappointments. If the older adult is moving into a nursing home, assisted living facility, or another supportive housing setting, consult with staff about how to minimize the likelihood that they will experience Relocation Stress Syndrome. They may be able to assign a staff member to the new resident who will help them get acclimated, encourage them to take part in activities, and introduce them to the residents and staff.
3. Safeguard the senior’s personal possessions.
It is likely that downsizing and relocating will be an emotionally challenging experience for the older adult. Many seniors have lived in their homes for decades, experiencing a variety of lifecycle events and marking numerous significant milestones over their time there. They may have invested a significant amount of resources and effort into their home structure and property, built their families, or amassed an accumulation of personal possessions that they are now forced to move away from. It can be difficult to come to terms with leaving their experiences behind and go through the process of selecting which items to keep and which to part with. Therefore, family members and caregivers should exercise extra sensitivity in the packing process and offer their support throughout. Be available to patiently help them sort their possessions into items they want to take along, donate, or give to friends or loved ones.
There is also a strong possibility that this process will trigger many memories and spark conversation that is meaningful to the older adult. Ensuring that there is sufficient time for reminiscing while handling the logistics of the move is a gift that will allow the adult closure on the past, and ease their transition into their new environment.
4. Involve the senior in setting up their new place.
Making the new place resemble the old home as much as possible is another way to help seniors settle comfortably into their new home. Choosing sentimental items to put on display will allow the older adult to maintain a connection to their past experiences and present opportunities for them to share with others when they attract the attention of visitors. It may also be helpful to take a trip shopping for home decor that will spread warmth and allow for personal expression. Stores such as Homegoods, Target, or Walmart offer a wide selection of knickknacks and decorative items that will increase the adult’s positive association with their new home.
5. Get help from senior move managers.
Move managers help plan and oversee any move, including moving from a longtime home to a communal home. In addition to hiring movers and supervising them, they help sort and pack belongings, as well as unpack at the new home.
Move managers are experts in navigating the tricky emotional terrain involved in moving someone who has accumulated a lifetime’s worth of possessions, in addition to handling the time-consuming and often backbreaking logistics. They’re especially useful for those who have decades’ worth of accumulated belongings, whose health is frail, or who don’t have adult children nearby. A senior move manager can also help you downsize possessions if someone is moving in with you (or vice versa) so you can accommodate multiple generations.
Pricing for move management services varies greatly. Some senior move managers charge by the hour (usually $25 to $75, depending on the region) or by the job. Visit the National Association of Senior Move Managers to ﬁnd a move manager near you.
Here we’ve addressed 5 helpful tips that can help family and caregivers smooth the moving process for a senior they are caring for. Regardless of the circumstances that prompt the move, be sure to stay focused on the factors that can ease the transition and reduce the risk of transfer trauma.
On our website, you can find additional caregiver resources and explore a variety of timely topics such as medical assistance, personal care, and senior companionship. Reach out to us today to learn more about our team of caring and experienced personal caregivers, registered nurses, and home health aides who expertly serve families just like yours. We’re here for you and happy to assist your family. Give us a call at (845) 425-6555 with any questions.
Community Home Health Care wishes you and your loved one a smooth transition into the new environment they will soon call home!
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