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Relocation Stress Syndrome: Checklist for Moving Elderly Parents

Moving to a new home can be stressful. It’s often a time of uncertainty, with losses of familiarity and parting with friends. Elderly parents who are moved can endure even greater stress. Moving them in the wrong way may even have a traumatic effect and potentially lead to relocation stress syndrome.

Relocation does not have to occur suddenly for the experience to be traumatic, so letting parents know the move is coming will not solve the problem. But there are some simple steps you can take to reduce relocation stress while moving elderly parents.

Watching for Signs of Relocation Stress

Relocation stress syndrome is essentially a psychological failure to adjust to the changes involved with moving. In the days before or after a move, a person with relocation stress may become irritable or combative. They may experience sleeplessness, poor appetite, weight fluctuations, drug-seeking behavior, anxiety, loneliness, and confusion.

Someone suffering from relocation stress syndrome may begin to withdraw or isolate themselves, refuse to take medications, or feel unable to focus.  You may have noticed many of these symptoms mirror the symptoms of dementia, which has the dangerous potential to create a misdiagnosis.

Checklist for Prevention

You can reduce relocation stress by using a simple four-point checklist for moving elderly parents.

  1. Keep your parents involved in the decision making process. If a facility is necessary, come to an agreement about the home you select. This can help maintain a sense of autonomy and dignity.
  2. Help your parents feel warmly welcomed into their new home. Try and recreate their previous environment with photos, a recreation of their previous furniture layout, or similar small touches to make things feel like home.
  3. Encourage them to forge new relationships in their new environment. Becoming involved in community activities can be an excellent means of meeting new people. Nothing makes you feel at home like having a sense of purpose.
  4. Finally, acknowledge their fears and feelings as legitimate. By downplaying their fears or concerns, loved ones may feel marginalized, unheard, or powerless.

Complications with Dementia

Even in the best of circumstances, people tend to have poor insight into their own deficits. The insight we have into our shortcomings can be further impaired with dementia. It’s common for an elderly parent who’s suffering from dementia to firmly believe they’re capable of living independently.

Meanwhile, their short-term memory limitations can prevent them from effectively coping with the change of a move. This is why the risk of suffering from relocation stress syndrome is increased among people with dementia. Almost by definition, they struggle to adapt to new circumstances and may be unable to participate in decision making.

Managing Relocation Stress

The symptoms of relocation stress syndrome typically subside within 3-6 months. If a loved one begins to experience these types of symptoms, it’s generally a bad idea to respond by moving them again.

Sometimes relocation stress syndrome is depression that’s been misdiagnosed. No matter what you call it, moving can be stressful. But by following this checklist for moving elderly parents, you can help your loved ones greatly minimize relocation stress and its associated risks.