Moving can affect seniors in a number of ways, causing everything from generalized anxiety and irritability to a serious medical condition called relocation stress syndrome, a situation that can lead to serious medical problems and premature death. Fortunately, with a little foresight and planning, the process of moving can be made manageable for the elderly.

Seniors often reside in the same home they have for decades: A home where they started a family, raised their kids and watched their grandkids play in the backyard. Even as their health declines, and it becomes harder to take care of everyday household tasks, relocating to a smaller home or an assisted living community may be the last thing they want to do. Knowing the effects that moving can have on the emotional and physical well-being of an older person can help family members reduce the negative impacts and make relocation a hopeful and positive experience for everyone.

Reasons for Relocating and its Effect on Seniors

The reasons behind moving seniors out of their family home may be connected to a sudden change, such as the death of a spouse or a personal medical event, but it’s more often associated with a slow change in their physical health or cognitive functioning. Not all seniors live close enough to family who can step in to help them manage their home, and not all states offer affordable in-home care that allows them to stay in the family home. This can require seniors to relocate to a smaller home or a place where they can receive the supervision and personal care needed to improve their quality of life.

Sudden moves can be difficult for people of all ages, but for seniors who may already be in poor health, moving can amplify their stress and emotional anguish and lead to a progressive range of symptoms that may include:

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Depression
  • Weight loss 
  • Increased falls

At the extreme end of the scale, seniors may be diagnosed with relocation stress syndrome, a disorder characterized by the above symptoms, as well as disorientation, combativeness and extreme duress that can lead to hospitalization and premature death.

Tips for Minimizing the Effects of Relocation

When it comes time for family members to relocate a parent or loved one into a smaller home or a residential care facility, there will inevitably be some level of grief or negative emotional response. However, they can minimize the scale and duration of this uncomfortable time by taking the following measures:

  • Include seniors in the process of moving as much as possible. Allow them to choose how and what to pack, and avoid changing plans without discussing it first.
  • Acknowledge their grief and don’t talk down to them or minimize their feelings. Moving is a life event, no matter when it happens.
  • Introduce them to their new environment before the day of the move. Seniors should feel comfortable with where they are going to be living. If you can, arrange a meet and greet with some of their neighbors beforehand to give them the chance to develop a connection to their new home before they move.