Ah... to this there are no easy answers. There are situations where the need to move seniors from their comfortable home is not altogether apparent, nor are its benefits.
There is a pervasive attitude that moving a senior brings on Relocation Stress Syndrome and Transfer Trauma which describe the ill effects of moving on the elderly which may result in declining health and even fatality. As such, children face the decision of whether to move an elderly parent with trepidation.
There may be ways to keep the senior in their home and familiar surroundings with a bit of elderproofing and home care, but at some point that becomes both risky and burdensome. In terms of a move, questions are: What are the risks? What are the benefits? The whole picture of the senior and their support system must be taken into account.
While the generally accepted notion that moving the elderly can set off a disastrous chain of events both physically and emotionally, the limited research on this topic is not always clear. There are as many conclusions as there are flip flops. While we need to be sensitive to issues relating to their feelings about their home and sense of control, moving a senior can sometimes result in a better quality of life since their medical needs are being met more efficiently.
That is not to say that we can be cavalier about the whole thing. The home represents many things to people such as comfort, familiarity and identity. These feelings intensify as we age and homes become embodiments of all the memories of events that have taken place there and people that have passed through them. Not only do the elderly become tied to their homes due to the number of years they have lived there, as they become less autonomous, they literally spend more hours in their homes on a daily basis.
We must never ignore their right of self-determination and independence. The elderly have learned how to navigate their homes to compensate for growing deficits. They map out ways to cope with areas like steps and hallways, thereby increasing their sense of independence and self-reliance.
Factors that can make or break success include whether the elderly person is moving voluntarily and maintaining his or her social supports. Also, the degree of change has a big impact on the effect from the change. Although it might be inevitable, whether they are going to an institution is also likely to affect the move and their health profile. Making a move within their community can help.
Of course, as it does with younger people, the personality of each person plays a large part in how they deal with change and adjusting to new surroundings. For those who are not that flexible, the stress – physical and mental – associated with moving can, in fact, be traumatic, and set off a decline in health. One adult child felt the word move was not descriptive enough. She felt it is so emotional for all concerned that the term evacuation was more apt.
Once you have decided to broach the subject of a move, it is not uncommon for the senior to absolutely refuse. One way to head off resistance is to begin conversations about the future well in advance. Have a continual dialogue about future plans not months, but years in advance. Words like “assisted living” and “nursing home” will scare anyone when foisted on someone without warning or preparation. Unfortunately, when it comes to the elderly, situations often deteriorate which make a move obvious even for the most recalcitrant senior.
Studies talk about the importance of preparation. Pounce on any willingness on the part of the senior to make new arrangements. Visits to facilities or new living arrangements can go a long way to allaying fears. You may even be able to arrange a one week or one month trials before making a commitment. As detailed a picture you can paint for the senior will make them more comfortable with how this next stage will play out.
A thorny issue may also arise due to the noblest intentions of parents. They may acquiesce to a move out of a feeling of not wanting to overly burden their adult children who may have already been burdened with their household management of late either locally or via long distance. By the same token, they may hide their physical symptoms and deficits out of a sense of not wanting to scare their children with respect to their health profile.
There is a Transition Hypothesis that puts forth the notion that various levels of care along the way will ease the whole move. There are social workers and psychologists that specialize in dealing with the elderly and their surrounding issues such as this. It may come to a point where one must be consulted. Properly monitoring by professionals on site as well as by the family will help avoid adverse events.
It is so hard to leave your home and the elderly, with their diminished strength spent over a lifetime of living, are especially afraid. 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!