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Moving and Dementia: How to Prevent Transfer Trauma

If your loved one has Alzheimer’s, dementia or another form of memory loss, moving from one home to another can become a particularly stressful event in their life, one that could possibly cause transfer trauma or relocation stress syndrome. So, should a person with dementia be moved from their home? What if their home is no longer safe due to their memory loss? And does moving make dementia worse? Have no fear – our memory care experts at Windsor Estates of St. Charles are here to answer your questions about moving your elderly loved one with dementia.

Transfer Trauma in the Elderly

First things first: What is relocation stress syndrome, exactly? Relocation stress syndrome refers to a range of behavioral, mood or physiological symptoms that occur when someone moves from one environment to another. Also called transfer trauma, the word “trauma” refers to the increased severity of the symptoms or response the individual has to the move. Any individual experiencing a relocation can be affected by these symptoms, not just the elderly or those with memory loss; however, when it comes to transfer trauma, dementia patients are more likely to be particularly affected by relocation due to their limitations with short-term memory, which can disrupt their ability to cope with change.

Symptoms of relocation stress syndrome, or transfer trauma, include:

  • Physiological symptoms: pain, rapid heartbeat from anxiety, sleeplessness, sudden weight gain or weight loss, poor appetite, coping through bad habits like drug-seeking behaviors (or drinking/smoking), indigestion or nausea, or a sudden onset of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
  • Mood-related symptoms: anxiety, sadness, irritability, tearfulness, anger, depression.
  • Behavioral symptoms: generally challenging or aggressive behaviors, such as combativeness, complaining, screaming, etc.; wandering; isolating themselves through methods like shutting down, emotional or social withdrawal, or refusing care or medication.

Symptoms don’t always just occur immediately following the relocation, either; they may begin before the move in anticipation or fear of what’s to come, or they may last for several months. As such, before taking dementia patients out of environments they are comfortable in, you should carefully consider what is best for your loved one and how you can help them avoid experiencing transfer trauma.

How to Move a Parent with Dementia

If you have a parent or loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s, dementia or another form of memory loss, you may be concerned about their safety at home, living on their own. Or, if they are living with you, the strain of serving as a caretaker 24/7 may be starting to take a toll as you deal with taking care of their needs as well as those of your own family. Moving your loved one to a safe environment, like a memory care community, might be the best option for both of you.

As it becomes more obvious that moving your loved one is the right thing to do, you may start wondering how to convince someone with dementia to move. What’s the best way to approach the conversation? And how do you move someone with dementia without causing transfer trauma? It’s important to treat your loved one with the respect they deserve when it comes to moving them from an environment in which they feel both comfortable and confident. Here are our top 3 tips for moving and handling dementia patients with care:

  1. Involve your loved one in the decision-making process and listen to their concerns. When an individual feels their sense of choice is threatened, or they feel bossed around, they may become more stubborn or fearful and their chances of experiencing transfer trauma are increased. Involving them in the decision process lets them know you value their opinion and that you are open to listening to their concerns or fears about moving.
  2. Help them adjust in advance by visiting their new community before the move. Your loved one may feel more confident about the move if they are able to visit their new home in advance, multiple times if possible! Check with the community to see if they offer short-term respite stays for seniors, or if your loved one can join in on daily activities in advance of moving. Allowing them to get to know the staff and other residents prior to moving in can help boost their confidence and comfort level, preventing possible transfer trauma from occurring later.
  3. Get a social worker involved. Communities like Windsor Estates of St. Charles have social workers dedicated to helping your loved one make a seamless transition into life at their new community. Social workers can help ensure that your loved one is not transferred needlessly or that the move doesn’t occur too quickly, which might result in trauma.

Avoid Transfer Trauma at Windsor Estates of St. Charles

Experiencing transfer trauma is NOT inevitable. When you work with an experienced staff, like the one at Windsor Estates Senior Living in St. Charles, Missouri, you’ll be guided by individuals with expertise in handling the relocation process for your loved one.

Along with our superior assisted living services, our memory care program will customize your loved one’s care by learning all about them as an individual – their history, skills, interests, hobbies and current routines – and incorporating that information into activities designed to deliver a more satisfying and meaningful daily life in their new home. And with assistance provided for the activities of daily living (ADLs) alongside prepared meals and snacks and a medication management program, you can rest assured your loved one will be well taken care of.

Not sure if your loved one is ready for a move to a memory care community? Reach out today to learn more about what Windsor Estates of St. Charles has to offer. We’d be happy to answer your questions!