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Relocation Stress Syndrome

Home Transitions are Particularly Treacherous for Seniors

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Relocation Stress Syndrome? Really? It sounds like a fake disease some creative lawyer dreamed up to exonerate a criminal. On the contrary, though, RSS is an all too real malady. It was officially recognized as a valid nursing diagnosis in 1992, and is something that can afflict people of any age. It is recognized as an Approved Nursing Diagnosis by NANDA-I (North American Nursing Diagnosis Association-International).

According to the Holmes-Rahe Social Readjustment Rating Scale published in 1967, changing our residence is 32nd on a scale of the 43 most stressful “life events.” Some studies suggest, however, that for seniors, moving may be as high as the third most stressful event, behind only the death of a spouse and divorce. Most seniors are also dealing with other problems, including cognitive impairment, increasing physical limitations, financial concerns, and others. Also, many senior moves are necessitated by some life crisis, requiring that the transition be made quickly and under heavy duress. Being displaced from a long-time residence is more than most elders can manage. So RSS is a real and potentially dangerous condition.

RSS, also known as “Transfer Trauma,” typically presents with a combination of physiological and/or psychological disturbances. These symptoms generally occur after transferring from a familiar environment to a new unfamiliar residence. Specific symptoms  include grief and loss, depression, disorientation, exhaustion, sleep disturbance, and anxiety. Among seniors, these symptoms are often exacerbated by other conditions, such as dementia, mild cognitive impairment, sensory impairment, overall poor physical health, frailty, decreased mobility, and lack of a social support system. Seniors suffering one or more of these additional stressers are highly susceptible to increased confusion, depression, agitation, and memory loss, which loved ones and caretakers often misdiagnose as the onset     

voluntary or involuntary, if time permits, the transition should be done slowly, carefully, thoughtfully, and methodically. Well-meaning friends and family often try to insulate seniors from the process believing it will benefit them by relieving as much stress as possible. But loss of control and unpleasant surprises only add to the sense of loss and disorientation.

Optimally, seniors should always be permitted to maintain control of the process. If that is not possible due to cognitive limitations, seniors should be kept abreast of all decisions being made on their behalf, and encouraged to ask questions and discuss concerns consistently throughout the process. Always be respectful of the attachment a senior may have to personal possessions, making sure they understand why the decision to dispose of some belongings is necessary. After the move, make sure the senior is involved in arranging and decorating their new residence, and attempt to have the new home resemble the old one as much as possible to minimize the feeling of disorientation. As RSS symptoms can surface as much as three months after the move is completed, it is also extremely important for everyone in the seniors’ social network to continue visiting, assisting them in acclimating to the new home and monitoring their physical well-being and state of mind.

A relocation involving seniors can be stressful for everyone involved, including any family and friends that volunteer their assistance. Professional move management companies can be of invaluable assistance by taking care of the planning and much of the physical work. Move managers specializing in seniors are also schooled and practiced in handling the needs and concerns of elders. Your relocation can happen with a minimum of stress for everyone concerned with the help of a good move manager.

of Alzheimer’s or dementia. Elders sometimes also suffer undesirable weight loss and stop taking adequate care of themselves. Perhaps most dangerous, the resultant lack of mental focus and reduced physical wellness, combined with having to navigate in an unfamiliar environment can often lead to falls causing potentially severe injuries.

Studies have shown that certain circumstances can greatly increase the risk of people suffering from RSS. According to “Evidence-Based Guideline: Management of Relocation in Cognitively Intact Older Adults,” Journal of Gerontological Nursing, November 2007 by Judith E. Hertz, et. al): “For older adults who may have limited coping resources, a move to a new home might be especially stressful. There are numerous reasons older adults relocate to different living environments. Whatever the reason, the decision to move requires careful consideration. Although older adults’ relocation decisions are often made quickly and in crisis situations following an acute illness or a sudden change in their personal lives, careful planning is one of several factors that will promote adjustment after relocation.” The authors found that the less time allowed for seniors to become used to the idea of moving, the poorer the preparation, the more powerless seniors are made to feel, and the more likely they are to contract RSS.

How do we minimize the chances of suffering from RSS? Allow as much time as possible between the day the decision to move is made and actually making the transition. Plan as thoroughly and meticulously as possible, allowing the senior to be involved in the process as much as possible in a non-stressful way. Of course, if a crisis or emergency necessitates an immediate move to a healthcare facility, there isn’t any way of attending to these recommendations. But whether the move is