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The Psychological Impact of Moving to Assisted Living and Residential Care

By HERWriter
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If you or a loved one are having difficulty carrying out everyday activities, such as getting dressed and bathed, keeping house, or getting to and from appointments or just getting out to get groceries, then assisted living may seem like a logical alternative. Just as those who need more specialized medical care for their particular condition might see residential or nursing home care as a logical alternative to living on one’s own.

Regardless of the reason for seeking a move to assisted living or residential care, there is a psychological aspect that can affect the “move-ee” and their family. Relocation Stress Syndrome can take the form of resistance and outright defiance to moving altogether. We will take a look at what these psychological factors are and how families and help smooth the transition.

Behind Moving Scenes

Like most people when faced with the reality of moving, seniors — assisted living and other outpatient living arrangements are not only for seniors, but as seniors comprise the largest percentage of residents in these kinds of facilities, the term “seniors” will be used — experience basic moving stress associated with sorting out possessions and packing things away and making sure all financial and other arrangements have been made with the new place.

However, there is so much more than just stress. There is also a sense of grief or loss. Grief and loss when revisiting old memories or possessions (particularly for a widow or widower). Grief over loss of independence, leaving a familiar neighborhood and surroundings.

Grief shows itself in a variety of ways, as well: shock, anger, guilt. It is important to know (particularly for family members) what to expect and to know that it is perfectly normal. However, if the feelings of depression and others linger for too long, intervention may be needed.

There is also the fear of going to a new place: meeting new people, getting used to a new schedule, a new way of doing things, getting possessions organized in the new house/apartment, uncertainty about learning to trust the nursing staff and new neighbors.

But symptoms aren’t limited to obvious outward emotional signs. Relocation Stress Syndrome can also disrupt sleep resulting in exhaustion and low energy, which can “enable” the depression cycle, particularly if there is already dementia, cognitive impairment, poor physical health, frailty, or some form of sensory impairment.

Tips to Ease into New Living Environment

There are many things you can do to ease the stress of moving.

• Start packing early – Much of the stress of moving is deciding what to take and what to give away before even really getting to the packing stage. So make sure you start this sorting process well in advance. Putting it off for whatever reason until the very last minute will only increase your stress.

• Do your homework – Learn everything you can possibly learn about your new living environment. Visit frequently to get used to the layout and people. Make sure all your questions have been answered.

• Stay busy – Depression begets isolation which begets depression. It seems so natural when dealing with all the grief and stress to just hide away in your apartment until you “feel better”. The only problem with that is research shows that depression cyclical and often worsens with prolonged isolation. Getting yourself involved as quickly as possible can help alleviate stress, and help make connections with other residents and staff.

• Be patient with yourself – “Everyone adjusts to change differently, so give yourself a break, no matter what you’re feeling. However, if you feel like you’re taking longer than you think you should to adjust, it may help to talk to your family members, the director of the facility, or a trusted friend” (Helpguide.org).

There are also many things that caregivers can do to ease the transition for their loved one.

• Involve your loved one as much as possible in the decisions.

• Ensure that the new facility easily accommodates any visual, audio or physical disabilities.

• Arrange to help with sorting and packing and moving and unpacking of items; when arranging items in the new apartment, try to set them out as similar as possible to the previous home.

• Always use positive language when talking about the move and make sure all arrangements are looked after; extra assurance may be needed if changing doctors, or if plants or pets are not allowed.

• Arrange to take a tour of the new area to help familiarize him or her with the surrounding community.

Moving for any reason is always a stressful time, but good planning, education and preparation can help alleviate relocation stress syndrome.


Assisted Living Facilities: TIPS FOR CHOOSING A FACILITY AND MAKING THE TRANSITION. Helpguide.org. Web. 31 Aug. 2011.

New Study Examines Financial and Psychological Effects of Moving For Elderly Americans. Senior Housing News. Web. 31 Aug. 2011.

When to put a parent in assisted living or a nursing home. Journal of Behavioral Studies in Business Web. 31 Aug. 2011.http://www.aabri.com/manuscripts/09386.pdf

Reducing Relocation Stress Syndrome for Seniors. Smooth Transition Services Web. 31 Aug. 2011. http://sts-online.ca/resources/articles/

Reviewed August 31, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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