Relocation Stress Syndrome (RSS) became a medical diagnosis
in 1992, yet the feelings that go with it have been known for
years. The syndrome is associated with older adults who are
getting ready to move from private residences to Assisted Living
or long-term care. This stress may continue long after the move.
understandable, for moving is one of the most stressful experiences
After my father-in-law
suffered a stroke and
had difficulty with the activities of daily living, family members
asked him to move to a group high rise with support services.
Dad rejected the idea loudly. But family members didn’t
give up and we had several family meetings with him.
Finally, dad agreed
to move, but he was really grumpy about. His worry often turned
to anger and he would lash out at family members. The sorting
groups in his condo, keep and donate, made him furious. Though
I didn’t know it then, I now realize he had Relocation
Stress Syndrome, which is also called Transition Trauma.
What are the symptoms
of Relocation Stress Syndrome? They include anxiety, confusion,
helplessness, loneliness, withdrawal, ongoing worry, and pessimism.
Some people have trouble sleeping. Just the thought of moving
would send dad into a “blue funk” and his dark mood
would last for days. It was impossible to reason with him when
he was in this mood.
Colleen Smart, a Certified
Senior Advisor, describes this stress in an ElderCare Blog article,
“Relocation Stress Syndrome.” Many variables contribute
to RSS, according to Smart, and “research shows that seniors
may take longer to adjust than younger people.” The root
cause of RSS is loss – loss of youth, possessions, control,
and everything that is familiar.
If he moved to Assisted
Living my father-in-law would have to adjust to a new place,
new rules, and a new way of living. Living in a smaller place
meant he would have to part with chairs, tables, lamps, pictures,
and family heirlooms like apothecary jars from Peru. Dad let
go of many things, but each parting was painful for him. Watching
the process was painful for me.
Ways to Help
You can make your loved one’s transition to Assisted Living
easier. First, watch for the symptoms of Relocation Stress Syndrome.
Keeping written notes about the symptoms and their severity
may be helpful. Monitoring alcohol consumption may also be wise.
Seek medical help if you think your loved one is depressed.
Second, try to be reassuring.
Talk about the advantages of Assisted Living, such as personal
safety and medical back-up. My husband and I talked about the
people dad knew who lived in the high rise. “You will
be among friends,” we assured him. Being close to Mayo
Clinic, where he had practiced medicine, was also a plus for
Third, accept your loved
one’s feelings of loss. Mentally reverse roles and ask
yourself, “How would I feel if I was dealing with so many
changes?” Identify positives, such as giving family keepsakes
to adult children and grandchildren. We received some of the
Peruvian apothecary jars and a framed tapestry. When dad came
for dinner (and he came often), he saw these items in our home.
Finally, stay connected
with your loved one. Call the day after the move and continue
to stay in touch. Visit often, eat dinner there, include your
loved one in family functions, and plan special events. At Christmas
time, for example, we drove dad around town to see the holiday
lights and ended the tour with dinner at our house.
Moving was emotional
work for dad and physical work for us. My sister-in-law helped
dad sort and categorize items, a monumental task that took weeks.
I was in charge of sprucing up his condo – inspection,
cleaning, painting, buying and installing new carpet and appliances.
In time, all of our worry and all of our work paid off, for
Dad loved Assisted Living.
Copyright © 2012
by Harriet Hodgson
- Article by Harriet
Hodgson exclusively for Assisted Living Directory