REDUCING STRESS FOR SENIORS DURING A MOVE
We talk a lot about the advantages of having seniors age in place, that is in the home they are comfortable and familiar with. But, sometimes there comes a point when that is not feasible and we must consider a move which can often be dramatic for them. A move can be almost as stressful for the elderly as a divorce or the death of a spouse. In a previous article, I addressed deciding to move an elderly loved one. Here, once you have made this agonizing decision, I discuss how to do this with as little stress and trauma as possible.
Relocation stress can take the form of depression as well as feelings of anger, loneliness, apprehension, and anxiety. Seniors have been known to lose sleep and their appetite and develop an excessive need for reassurance. Furthermore, this chapter may bring an exaggerated sense of dependency and insecurity. There have even been terms coined to describe the ill effects of moving on the elderly—relocation stress syndrome and transfer trauma.
Studies suggest that with the proper preparation before and assistance during the process, stress can be greatly reduced. If the move is to a pleasant and more supportive environment, it can even be a positive experience. For example, if you move an elderly loved one geographically closer to a relative when staying in their own city would have forced them into institutional care such as a nursing home, they may look forward to it. If their move takes them out of an isolating environment to a more social one of their choosing, it could be an eagerly anticipated event.
The “transition hypothesis” addresses the notion that various levels of care along the way will ease the move. There are social workers and psychologists that specialize in dealing with the elderly and their surrounding issues. You might want to consult with one before diving in. Getting the senior on-board for the move is a big hurdle; their attitude can make or break success. Prior visits to their future residence can also ease any apprehension.
A lot of the stress comes from the challenges of the move itself. The elderly are in no condition to direct this. Moreover, adult children may live far away or be bogged down by their own responsibilities. As such, a new class of professionals has stepped in to address this problem.
Senior Move Managers
Senior move managers (SMMs) specialize in all the logistics. SMMs come from diverse backgrounds with degrees in gerontology, social work, nursing, or psychology and experience in the healthcare, project management, or corporate world. They are trained to deal with complications that arise when dealing with the elderly. In my experience, they approach their work with the type of patience that you could never expect from regular movers. They frame questions and make arrangements with sensitivity to the elderly and their loved ones and create calm from potential chaos. Anyway, a neutral third party is always good to have around at such an emotional time.
To move an elderly loved one, SMMs can take over every aspect of moving and situating seniors such as:
Organizing and sorting possessions
Packing up the home
Hiring and directing movers
Customizing floor plans to suit elderly requirements
Arranging for the disposal, donation, or sale of unwanted items
Shipping items and arranging for storage if needed
Finding a realtor and staging the house for sale
SMMs can even take care of all details of unpacking in the new home. This would include making sure the dishes are in the cupboards, milk is in the refrigerator, towels are in the bathroom, and the sheets are on the bed before they leave.
Other Professionals Can help
Allied professionals such as geriatric care managers, elder-law attorneys, senior living communities, home healthcare agencies, and realtors usually have professional move managers that they can recommend. There is even a National Association of Senior Move Managers (www.nasmm.org). It was established in 2002 and checks for insurance and experience before accepting members. An SMM can charge on an hourly basis or by the job, and rates vary throughout the country.
It is so hard to leave one’s home, and the elderly, who acutely feel their frailty, are especially afraid of doing so. Have no illusions—a move will be difficult. As I mentioned in my previous article, one adult child felt the word “move” was not descriptive enough. He decided the term “evacuation” was more fitting!. However, if you reach out for help at appropriate times, you will emerge from this process as trauma-free and healthy as possible. Let me know if I can help!