Relocation Stress Syndrome in the Elderly

Relocation Stress Syndrome: The Dangerous Costs of Uprooting the Elderly

In Health by Companions for Seniors

About 70% of people over the age of 65 “can expect to use some form of long-term care during their lives,” according to a report from the Department of Health and Human Services. On average, women tend to need more than four years of care, while men generally need between two and three. 

If you’re thinking about getting started with long-term care for your aging parent or another elderly loved one, it’s important to explore all of your options and find a path forward that really works. This includes thinking about the potential downsides of some common types of long-term care, including nursing homes and assisted living facilities. 

Some families tend to think about institutionalized care as a first choice for older adults who need some help, when making this move may actually cause more harm than good for the senior. 

The reality is that when a senior moves from their home to an independent living or assisted living facility, their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health can often decline significantly. We’ve seen this occur firsthand, countless times.

One big reason is also one of the most painful to think about: trauma. Uprooting an older adult from their home — where they might have lived for 40 or 50 years — will severely disrupt their routines, rituals, and surroundings. This can lead to a condition known as relocation stress syndrome, or transfer trauma. 

What Is Relocation Stress Syndrome, or Transfer Trauma?

Home is where the heart is. In a study brought to our attention by the American Society on Aging, 63% of those 75 years or older, say that their homes’ “emotional” value is more important to them than its monetary value. 

Being forced to uproot from a familiar place — a home that they know intimately, and where they might have decades upon decades of happy memories — can be deeply upsetting to older adults. And the effects that come with an unpleasant move can last for far longer than you might think. 

Medical researchers have described “relocation stress syndrome” as a

nursing diagnosis characterized by symptoms such as anxiety, confusion, hopelessness, and loneliness. It usually occurs in older adults shortly after moving from a private residence to a nursing home or assisted-living facility. 

As Social Work Today explains in an article, this condition is also sometimes known as “transfer trauma,” and it comes from having a “severe emotional response” to the relocation. 

Kim Warchol, OTR/L, founder and president of Dementia Care Specialists, explains in Social Work Today that “the core of transfer trauma is fear, loss of control, loss of choice, and lack of the familiar.” 

Symptoms of relocation stress syndrome can manifest before, during, or after a move, and may range from mild to severe. The effects can be intense and wide-ranging, including mood, behavior, and physiological symptoms. 

According to one expert cited in Social Work Today, older adults experiencing the trauma of relocation may feel “sad, angry, irritable, depressed, anxious, or tearful,leading to behavior such as “combativeness, screaming, and complaining.” Seniors may withdraw or isolate themselves, or start to refuse care or treatment. 

Meanwhile, the stress can have physical effects, including pain, falling, sleeplessness, poor appetite, weight loss, gastrointestinal distress, nausea, and indigestion. 

As author Kate Jackson puts it:

If unaddressed, the consequences of transfer trauma can be severe, potentially resulting in an erosion of cognitive and physical functioning. There’s the possibility that the person will elope from the facility and get hurt or lost… And while studies have been contradictory, some research suggests that elders who relocate may have increased morbidity and mortality, particularly those with dementia.

The Harmful Effects of Uprooting the Elderly

Unfortunately, the potential downsides of moving away from home don’t stop with stress or trauma — and assisted living facilities and nursing homes simply won’t be the right match for many seniors or their families. 

For example? The COVID outbreak in 2020 has shined a spotlight on how rapidly diseases can spread through senior care facilities. Long before the coronavirus pandemic, researchers have been studying how dangerous these shared spaces can be — with many different people coming in and out, lack of quality control, and immunocompromised individuals living in close quarters. 

Making the move into a group setting can also be remarkably difficult for older adults who are shy, introverted, or who deal with any kind of social anxiety. While being social is important for your overall health, many seniors prefer to interact in settings that they know, and on their terms — rather than adjusting to a stressful and unfamiliar situation where they do not know anyone or have a support system close by. Ultimately, this may make some older adults feel even more isolated and lonely in the long-term. 

Moving away from home can also take an overall toll on a senior’s health and quality of life. Older adults with unique nutritional needs may struggle to get by when they cannot eat on their schedule, or stick to their preferred diet. The “growing pains” of having to adjust to an unfamiliar environment can increase the likelihood of suffering a damaging fall or accident for some people. 

And then there are the outside factors. The stress of having to sell a family home and deal with movers can be overwhelming and difficult for older adults. Even if the senior is not making all the decisions themselves, they might fret about having their family take on the challenge, or start to feel like a burden. This can all take an emotional toll. 

Home Care Can Help Seniors Stay Safe and Healthy While Aging In Place

According to reports from the AARP, roughly 90%of older adults would prefer to remain in their own home as they age, rather than uprooting to expensive, institutional care. About 80% of older adults say their current home is the only place they would ever want to live. 

It’s easy to understand why! When aging in place, a senior is able to continue living the independent and active lifestyle they want, in an environment that is familiar and full of warm memories. Instead of having to adapt to a new place full of new systems to understand, older adults who remain in place can continue to enjoy the comforts they’ve gotten used to. 

Even better, it is easy and straightforward for older adults to get the support they need to age in place happily and safely! 

Non-medical home care — also called in-home care, companion care, or, often, simply home care — is a type of flexible, affordable, and convenient long-term care that gives seniors the support they truly need to enjoy life from the comfort and safety of home. 

With home care, a trained and experienced companion can spend time with the older adult at their house, for as little as a few hours a month or up to several hours every day. It is a great fit for many different types of elderly clients, including older adults who need friendly companionship; seniors who need light assistance around the house; and older adults who need additional hands-on support following surgery or an injury. 

Home care is designed to empower the elderly to stay in the comfort and safety of their own homes, while providing the practical and social support they need to live a more active and independent lifestyle. In this arrangement, a companion or caregiver can provide a wide variety of services designed to help empower the senior every day, including: 

Companions for Seniors is Here to Lend a Helping Hand to Chicago’s Elderly

Interested in learning more about how you can get started with in-home care in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs? We are here and ready to help! 

At Companions for Seniors, making life easier for elderly adults and family caregivers is our passion. We’re always here to field your questions and help you find the best course of action for both yourself and your senior loved one.

Our mission is to help seniors live independently and with dignity in the comfort of their own homes by empowering them to lead an active and enriched lifestyle, connecting them with their community, and nurturing meaningful relationships.

Our companions are trained and bonded, and can help provide a variety of services designed to help your loved one age in place with ease. As a company, we believe in fostering an open dialogue and sharing ideas; always going the extra mile with our services; and providing flexible care that’s the right price and right fit for every household.

We’re proud to be locally owned in the Chicago area, with service available throughout northeastern Illinois. Don’t hesitate to contact us today using our handy online portal, or give us a call at 866-910-9020 to get the conversation started.