Relocation Stress Syndrome – Should I move to assisted living?4 min read

Making the difficult decision between in-home care and moving to an assisted living center can put a lot of strain on individuals and their families. Aside from the question of cost and practicality, the senior must also consider the stress associated with moving from your home also known as Relocation Stress Syndrome.

What is Relocation Stress Syndrome?

Also known as Transfer Trauma, is a combination of medical and psychological stress that occurs when someone moves from one living environment to another. While many seniors can weigh the pros and cons of their decision and may be able to mitigate the stress associated with the transition, some seniors (especially those suffering from memory care issues) face significant strain when moving.

Relocation stress can manifest itself in a variety of symptoms including:

  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Indecision
  • Anger
  • Apprehension
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Distrust
  • Anti-social behavior
  • Loneliness
  • Digestive problems
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Falls
  • Negativity

A major hazard with relocation stress is the higher relevance of falls in new homes. This is a combination of the overwhelming feeling of a new environment and the lack of familiarity of the layout of a new space. Falls can be devastating for some seniors. Risks can be mitigated by following some suggestions.

Should I move into assisted living?

Seniors based their decision to stay in their own home or move into assisted living on several factors. Before making the decision, weigh your options carefully and discuss the best course of action with friends and family. Here are some things to consider:

  • Are you or your loved on cognitively able to adjust to a move? (i.e. memory care)
  • Is a large part of your identity tied to your home or neighborhood? (i.e. routine, social factors)
  • Will moving bring you closer or further from your family?
  • Could your home be converted or re-organized to be more functional and safe? (i.e. close off the upstairs)
  • Is your home an investment that is best kept or sold?
  • Will the relocation site require significant downsizing?
  • Will the relocation site be able to accommodate significant changes in health?
  • Is an assisted living center more affordable that in-home care for the long-term?
  • Will the center provide better, more personalized care than in-home senior care?

A long-term, 10-year study found that many individuals and partners aged 65 or older will relocate as they age. This is significantly more likely with seniors living outside of town in rural areas. Seniors living outside of town may be separated from their families or outside of the range of caregiving services. It is best to check the service ranges of senior care companies before deciding on a move. Many seniors feel it is expected of them to relocate and don’t view staying home as an option.

In particular, there is a great deal of concern over relocation for individuals suffering from dementia or other memory care issues. A 22-year long study showed that elderly people saw greater cognitive decline after being relocated than those allowed to remain at home.

Another long-term study focusing exclusively on dementia patients found that “care recipients who are institutionalized have substantially higher mortality rates than do person who continue to be cared for at home.” The same study found that more than a quarter of committed elderly patients die within the first 6 months of moving into an assisted living setting.

Why are these rates so devastating? The likely cause is a combination of stress factors related to relocation and existing health issues that were not recognized by family caregivers. These potential issues could be avoided with medically trained carers offering care in the home.

What can you do to avoid Relocation Stress Syndrome?

  • Mimic the previous home’s layout. Some memory care centers will mimic the appearance of existing bedrooms and living spaces to help the dementia patient adjust to their new living situation.
  • Set and re-enact a routine. Whether or not you are a memory care patient or a senior facing relocation, understanding what your routine is and doing your best to recreate it at your new location can give you a sense of security and comfort.
  • Keep the family involved. Family and friends should always be present during transitions and in the time after a move. This provides a support network for the stress related to the new environment.
  • Protect personal possessions and space. Respecting the individual’s personal possessions and their space can help them avoid anxiety or aggressiveness.

The best method of preventing relocation stress is by keeping your loved one in their home. Making the decision between assisted living and in-home care can be difficult but in many instances, it can be more advantageous to stay at home.