Assisted living facilities have come a long way. Today’s adult residences offer vibrant social schedules, fitness and exercise classes, beautiful campuses, and delicious, nutritious meals. Still, the fact remains that most older adults would prefer to live out their years in their own home – all things being equal. Aging in place is the preference of 88% of senior citizens, according to a recent study conducted by the AARP. Many seniors have paid their home off and feel there is financial safety in remaining there. Many also have many memories within the walls of their home – raising children and grandchildren, hosting parties and holiday gatherings, and living with a beloved spouse. For many senior citizens, staying in their homes is indeed an option. If they have an adequate support system – usually family – and do not need extensive care, remaining in their residence may be a wonderful choice. But for those who have reduced mobility, declining cognitive ability, or simply do not feel safe living alone, assisted living may be a practical alternative. Still, even if everyone agrees the move is in their best interest, it can be quite emotional and disruptive. Many families find themselves with a senior who is struggling with relocation stress syndrome.
Moving as a Senior Citizen
At any stage of life, moving is one of the most stressful events for any individual. In fact, for some people, it is nearly as complex as the death of a family member or losing your career. Moving can be a complicated issue for seniors who have a lifetime of memories tied up in a physical location. Even when they agree that a change of location is in their best interest, the process of moving can be challenging. This is why the medical community recognizes the experiences seniors encounter and identifies them collectively as relocation stress syndrome (RSS). Also called “transfer trauma,” the symptoms of RSS can include anxiety, confusion, loneliness, and feelings of isolation. There are proactive steps you can take to assist your senior loved one in coping with this issue when the time comes for relocation.
Planning for an Easier Transition
Don’t rush the move: Sometimes, a move is necessitated by a sudden event, such as a medical emergency. But often, you may be anticipating the move as you see your loved one in slow decline or as your family discusses options for the future. If you can help it, try not to rush the process and be sure to involve your senior in the discussion. Give them time to process the idea of moving, and allow them input along the way.
Concentrate on overall well-being: Anxiety can be exacerbated when poor nutrition and fatigue are added to the stress. Focus on providing healthy meals, getting some exercise, and making sure sleep is a priority – and anxiety can be minimized.
Get involved at the facility early on: Moving a senior’s daily routine to an unfamiliar setting – where they don’t know anyone – can be a source of a lot of stress and anxiety. Before moving, get to know the staff, see if you can meet a few residents by attending a social, and browse the available activities to plan those things they can involve themselves in.
Set up familiar surroundings: Another practical way to decrease anxiety and feelings of isolation is to set up the new residence to look more like home. From placing personal photos to bringing favorite furniture and blankets, you can help your senior make everything seem more familiar.
Be sure to visit: One of the most significant anxieties seniors experience is the fear of being forgotten. Help ease their mind by establishing a visitor’s calendar, at least for the first few months at the new residence. Making sure your loved one has regular visitors is a great way to ease their anxiety.
Although you can ease stress, you likely cannot eliminate these feelings entirely. If your senior loved one is dealing with relocation stress syndrome, try the above tips – and then talk to the administration at their new facility. As a team, you can make the transition not only more manageable – but exciting and positive.
A Banyan Residence is an assisted living and memory care facility located in Venice, Florida.