How Seniors Can Avoid Relocation Stress Syndrome

Bethesda Health | June 14, 2018

Imagine you have lived in the same house for 40 years. You know every nook and cranny of the place. You know how to run the dishwasher, where the vacuum cleaner is located, which cupboard the cereal is in, who lives next door, and where within your home your precious memories took place. You are in control of your life.

Now imagine that, after 40 years, you have been moved to a new home— a smaller, unfamiliar home. Some of the appliances are a mystery, you can’t find the vacuum cleaner, the cereal is in the “wrong” place, new people live nearby, and the only memories you recognize are a few items you brought from your old home.

You feel that you have lost control.

You may be experiencing Relocation Stress Syndrome (RSS), a medically relevant condition characterized by anxiety, confusion, and loneliness that sometimes occurs after a move to a senior living community.

Why seniors are more susceptible to RSS

According to Chandelle Martel, Manager of the Bethesda Care Management Program, seniors are more vulnerable to RSS because of the reasons they have to move.

“Perhaps you’ve lost a spouse, or you have become physically or mentally unable to care for yourself,” Chandelle says. “Those things that once defined you — your self-reliance, your friends, your physical ability to garden and play with your dog — are going away. You are leaving your home, and there is nothing that you can do about it,” she says.

Symptoms of Relocation Stress Syndrome

When seniors are experiencing Relocation Stress Syndrome, the symptoms can manifest in a variety of ways. Keep an eye open for the following symptoms if you or your loved one has recently moved:

Many of these symptoms are common to dementia and, according to Chandelle, can make it initially difficult to determine their cause. It is important to know the difference between symptoms of dementia, symptoms of depression, and symptoms of RSS.

“We live a lot of our lives on ‘autopilot’” she says. “In a home we know, we follow a routine we are familiar with, we can mask some of the signs of dementia , because we don’t need to think a lot about what we are doing. In a new environment, dementia may reveal itself because the brain has to make adjustments that it is not capable of making.”

Time and Patience

The key is time. “The Care Management team visits the new Bethesda residents in independent living about six to eight weeks into their stay to see how things are going,” Chandelle says. “It can be confusing for residents at first, but when we recognize that they are starting to adjust, we know the condition was a temporary reaction to stress.”

Chandelle adds that it may take three to six months for residents to settle in.

If, however, the resident is not acclimating, Chandelle says Bethesda, through its Senior Support Solutions program, can provide more private duty care to help with things like remembering to take medications or doing laundry. If the problem persists, she will recommend a higher level of care, like assisted living or long-term care.

She adds that Bethesda’s Sales Counselors are good at recognizing when people applying for admission to one of Bethesda’s retirement communities may need a higher level of care than they are seeking. “I’ll do a visit with the potential resident and family members to see if we need a different plan,” she says.

Moving to the correct level of care can be crucial. If a senior is traumatized by one move, a quick second move can worsen the symptoms of Relocation Stress Syndrome.

Moving Tips to Reduce Stress

There are some things that can be done to reduce senior stress surrounding a move.

The home may need repairs and renovation, as maintaining it became more of a challenge for the senior as they aged. Unless proceeds from the sale of the house are needed immediately, it is far less stressful to move seniors into a senior living community and then work on the house to ready it for sale.

Prepare for the move by including the senior in the decision-making process. What kind of community do they prefer? How do they like the floor plans? What do they think of the amenities in the community?

Simplify the move into sections, so that tough decisions are more manageable and less overwhelming. Another option is to use services like Bethesda’s “Moving with Ease” program, which provides consultation planning and organization services for your move.

Involve the senior in choosing the items they want to bring from their home. “We also think about the placement of items in the new apartment,” says Chandelle. “As part of ‘Moving with Ease,’ we check to see if their couch will fit, and if they had a certain picture over the couch, we can make sure it will fit there in their new place.”

All of this is designed to reduce confusion and give seniors the sense of control that they feel they have lost.

At Bethesda Retirement Communities across the greater St. Louis area, we welcome new residents from a variety of previous living arrangements. Our communities offer a calendar of activities that allow our residents to stay active and involved in their hobbies while making new friends and adjusting to their new homes. Schedule a tour at one of our Independent Senior Living communities near you.

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