Health

Relocation stress syndrome – what it is and how to support senior relatives who experience it

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Moving home can be a stressful experience at any age. After spending so much time in a place and making so many memories there, anxiety is simply part of the process. And if moving in your 30s takes this emotional impact on you, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that seniors who are leaving their primary residence to relocate to a nursing home or assisted living facility can take a while to get used to the idea.

Even if moving to a nursing home is for the better, and sometimes seniors are excited to do so because they no longer have to worry about home maintenance, this remains a major life change, one that brings a lot of stress and anxiety as the moving day approaches. This is called relocation stress syndrome, and it refers to the unique challenges that seniors experience when they make this change later in life.

The impact of relocation stress syndrome shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s essential to guide your senior through this major life change while remaining mindful of their needs and reassuring them that going to a nursing home in no way implies losing their dignity or your love.   

What are the symptoms of relocation stress syndrome?

The symptoms of relocation stress syndrome can appear after your loved one has moved to a nursing home or in the period leading up to the move. In most cases, relocation stress syndrome can be recognized through symptoms such as anxiety, loneliness, sadness, and confusion. Before and after the move, it’s very important to spend more time communicating with your loved one because the symptoms aren’t always obvious during a weekly phone call.

Seniors who experience relocation stress syndrome can show a change in mood, become clingy, and develop a bleak outlook on their future. They may talk about feeling hopeless, losing interest in their hobbies, or feeling unmotivated about the future. At a physical level, relocation stress syndrome can cause sleeping problems and changes in appetite.

When you notice any of these symptoms, the most important thing to do is to acknowledge them and discuss them with grace and respect. Dismissing them and telling your loved one that they’re blowing things out of proportion will only accentuate feelings of hopelessness, abandonment, and inadequacy, so instead, you want to have a gentler, more reassuring attitude. Explain to them that you know they’re heading into a major life change, that feeling nervous is normal, and that you’re there for them.

How to help seniors cope with moving stress

Fight misinformation. Contrary to what many seniors believe, moving to a nursing home or assisted living community doesn’t mean that they will stop enjoying their life. On the contrary, they can continue doing the things they love, and they continue to meet new people, while knowing that their health and wellness are cared for. Nursing home quality standards have changed a lot in the past years, and they can even offer more facilities than your senior now has at their disposal. Your loved one’s anxiety can be caused by extremely low expectations, and the best way to address this is by showing them pictures of the best nursing homes, leaflets and other introductory materials, and letting them choose where they will spend their senior years.

Allow your senior some sense of control. One of the biggest mistakes adults make is waiting until their relatives reach old age or get sick to address the topic of a nursing home. Ideally, you should try to open this subject as early as possible, so that they can get involved in the process and make some choices for themselves. If your parent or relative is well enough to research nursing home options and go there to get to know the staff and the general atmosphere, they’ll feel more comfortable about the move and won’t dread the day they have to say goodbye to their private residence. Also, when getting ready for the move, let your parent decide what to take with them. Unless they have a degenerative brain disease or another illness, they should be in control of what happens to their belongings. If you pack their bags and sell everything at a garden sale, their stress is more than justified.

Encourage them to take care of their health. An often-overlooked consequence of relocation stress syndrome is that it makes seniors lose their appetite, have insomnia, and generally forget to look after themselves – and that can lead to more serious health problems. In addition to being by their side and empowering them, make sure they are eating right, taking their meds, and sleeping well. If stress and anxiety get out of hand, you can consider wellness products that reduce stress, such as the Delta 8 Flower, and help them choose a physical activity to keep them busy. Even if “traditional” workouts are a bit too intense for seniors, there are many safe, low-impact, joint-friendly exercises that can help. Even gardening, playing with grandchildren, and light chores can make a difference in your loved one’s mood.

Communication is crucial, both before and after the move. Most of the time, stress and anxiety stem from a lack of communication. Before your senior moves to a nursing home, answer all their questions, and let them know what to expect. Explain to them what their schedule will be, how often you’ll come to visit, and what will happen to their home in their absence. Also, after they move, keep in touch with them by visiting them personally, talking on the phone, and having video chats. Oftentimes, seniors who move to nursing homes feel that they’re forcibly removed from family life, and communication is key in making them feel loved and included.

And remember, it’s important to have realistic expectations. It’s normal for your senior to feel a bit anxious before the move, so the goal here isn’t to remove stress completely. Instead, you should try to manage this stress in a healthy way, so that it doesn’t become a major issue going forward.

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