A Startling Fact about Moving: Relocation Stress

You’ve just moved mom into a retirement neighborhood and she is suddenly forgetful, depressed, and can’t sleep.  You thought this was the best solution for her care and now things appear worse, what is going on?If this scenario sounds familiar to you be assured, you are not alone!  I recently attended a seminar by Gero Soultions at the National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM) Convention that talked about Relocation Stress and Transfer Trauma.  Relocation Stress Syndrome (RSS) and Transfer Trauma were approved as a diagnosis in the early 1990’s.  It refers to a set of symptoms that result from a transfer from one environment to another.  The interesting aspect of Relocation Stress Syndrome and Transfer Trauma is that many retirement communities are unaware of it.  As a member of NASMM, I feel it is part of my responsibility to educate people on the subject.

The Symptoms

The following is an excerpt from “Relocation Stress Syndrome in Older Adults” by Tracy Greene Mintz, MA, MSW, ACSW from Social Work Today Vol. 5 No. 6 P. 38  The full article can be found at: http://www.snapforseniors.com/portals/0/pdfs/relocationstress.pdf

“Symptoms of RSS are the same in all age groups. They can include exhaustion, sleep disturbance, anxiety, financial strain, grief and loss, depression, and disorientation. In older people, these symptoms can quickly become exacerbated by dementia, mild cognitive impairment, poor physical health, frailty, lack of support system, and sensory impairment. Do clients understand why they were relocated? Did they participate in the decision? Can they see and hear sufficiently in their new accommodations to learn their way around a new building or neighborhood? Do they have anyone to help them pack or move? Will they remember that this is no longer their home? Can they keep their doctor? Friends? Pet?

For social workers, RSS symptoms meet the diagnostic criteria for adjustment disorder (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV). Moving is an adjustment that some people make easier than others. Mood and mental changes that can occur include depression, anger, suicidal ideation, confusion, anxiety, and paranoia. Some may exhibit denial by over idealizing the move (Isn’t this place wonderful? Everything is just perfect!). Behaviors we are likely to see in older people are somatic complaints, wandering, aggression, isolation, excessive demands for medical and nonmedical attention, and substance use, abuse, or misuse. Physical signs may include pain, agitation, aggression, incontinence, appetite or weight changes, sleep disturbance, and the most dreaded yet too common—falls. Adjustment disorder can take up to three months to manifest. Those can be three difficult and heart-breaking months for residents, family, and staff. In the Los Angeles facility survey previously mentioned, one third of new residents had an acute hospitalization within 30 days of moving into the residential care facility. At the affiliated nursing home, 11% of new residents passed away within 30 days. If the disorder does not resolve after six months, it is no longer about adjustment, and the relocation may have triggered another chronic illness.”

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