There are times when the process of moving one block feels like the stress of moving to a whole new country, and instances when the lingo of moving is like learning a whole new language. This is especially true if you have ever helped an aging loved one; you may have had to study-up on rightsizing vs. downsizing, refined what a continuum of care really means or processed the definition of a Medicaid Gap. But there is one term that we feel is oft-overlooked and important for every family, every eldercare professional and every move manager to understand: relocation stress syndrome.
T-O-P Move Management recently had the honor of encountering one of the industry’s most highly-regarded professionals on the topic, Tracy Greene Mintz (LCSW), at the NASMM Annual Conference this year! Social Work Today calls Tracy a “a nationally recognized expert in relocation stress syndrome whose company, Senior Care Training, equips social workers and the entire range of professionals involved in eldercare to prevent relocation stress syndrome, also known as transfer trauma.”
‘Relocation Stress Syndrome’ is also known as ‘transfer trauma’. Anyone who has moved from one place to another is at-risk, and the risk is highest for those who may had very little (if any) control in decision-making and those with dementia who may have difficulty processing new information. Move types include adapting to a new living situation, relocation to a new facility, the loss of a long-term residence and anyone who feels they will never truly be 'home' again. Relocation Stress Syndrome is extremely serious and was added as an official diagnosis to the North American Nursing Diagnosis Association in 1992. Negative effects of transfer trauma and relocation stress syndrome can include serious depression, anxiety, illness, and even increased risk of death.
Symptoms are typically clustered into reactions mood, behavior and physiological manifestations. Symptoms may occur before, during or several months after a move.
Common Mood Symptoms: Sadness, Anger, Irritability, Depression, Anxiousness, Tearfulness.
Common Behavior Symptoms: Combativeness, Screaming, Complaining, Lack Of Trust, Decline In Self-Care and Generally Challenging Behaviors.
Common Physiological Symptoms: Confusion, Pain, Falling, Rapid Heartbeat (due to anxiety), Sleeplessness, Poor Appetite, Weight Loss or Gain, Drug Seeking, and Increased Coping Through Drinking/Smoking. Other Physiological Complaints Include: A Sudden Onset Of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Indigestion or Nausea.
Prevention & Support
Social workers are critical in helping to prevent Relocation Stress Syndrome. Every effort should be made to ensure that individuals are not transferred needlessly, too swiftly or into inappropriate levels of care. Our powerful speaker and senior champion Tracy Greene Mintz has stated that “The best means of prevention is to slow the process until the actual patient can participate in the decision.” The power of choice and involvement in the decision cannot be emphasized enough; every communication should focus on what the patient wants, does not want and what they need to remain who they have always been.
Honoring individuality, providing a sense of purpose and belonging and guiding the establishment of new relationships are vital components of a successful life transition. Gentle navigation of the move can also be supported by facility visitation prior to moving (when appropriate) and ensuring that the staff and nurses of the setting are skilled and understanding of the physical, mental and emotional strains that occur during transitions.
While social workers hold the primary role in supporting smooth transitions among senior care arrangements, families can also benefit from outside support services such as senior move managers and relocation companies who can help manage many of the stresses that accompany such life changes.
In short, it takes a team to support our loved ones through some of the hardest moves in their lives. It is not only a team we are honored to be on, but one where the results are measured by more than a score – but things that are far more powerful: a smile, a sigh of relief and a sense of hope.
We would like to truly thank Tracy Greene Mintz from Senior Care Training for her ongoing dedication, commitment and inspiration in championing this most basic human right and need.
While this blog intends to serve as an introduction the meaning of Relocation Stress Syndrome, it is in no way intended to serve as a substitute for professional, medical guidance in its prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Please be sure to consult with your healthcare provider and seek out a licensed social worker if you have a loved one experiencing transition challenges or have concerns about moving a loved one with dementia and/or cognitive impairment.