Elder Care: Relocation Stress Syndrome

Moving can be one of the most stressful times in a person’s life. Moving can be physically and mentally challenging because of the relocation of all of your personal belongings as well as all of the decisions that need to be made during the moving process. However, it can also be emotionally challenging because moving often brings a sense of loss and trepidation. When we leave our comfortable environment we lose community connections as well, such as close neighbors and local friends. As humans, the community is everything and when we move, we are losing that community. We may come to visit or they may visit us, however, moving brings a sense of permanent change and it will never be the same. The change could be a good thing, of course, it can bring new opportunities, new relationships, and it may bring the family closer together. But even if something is gained from the move there is always something that is lost and that can be emotionally traumatic especially for seniors. Relocation stress syndrome (RSS) or otherwise known as ‘transition trauma’ can result from the stress of moving to a brand new environment which brings out huge changes in our routine and lifestyle. That can be challenging to navigate as a senior when you may have already settled into an environment for a long time. It should be expected that moving can bring out big emotions and that transitioning can be challenging but there are some helpful tips that can ease the process.


The stress from moving can bring about physical conditions such as headaches, muscle tension, anxiety symptoms, and even insomnia. Troubled sleep can also prolong the stress of the move. It is important that as soon as the move is over that seniors try to get back onto their regular routine. A daily schedule that includes light exercise, stretching, and an appropriate bed routine will help ease the physical symptoms from the stress. Light exercise and stretching will help ease muscle tension and increase flexibility. And sleep is one of the most critical things that you can focus on when trying to increase mental wellness. The human body appreciates consistency and so a daily routine, even in the midst of a move, can be helpful for regulating the physical symptoms of anxiety.


Humans are not just physically affected by anxiety, there is also the emotional component. Moving creates a sense of loss – not only the loss of the physical space and many belongings but also the loss of the relationships that were built from that community. This is a critical time for family and friends to step up and make an effort to connect more often with their elderly loved ones. The presence of loved ones and the reassurance that they give makes space for the senior to process their emotional trauma. A good laugh with friends and a good cry on the shoulder of a loved one can do wonders to allow the emotions to process and be released.

Another aspect that may not occur to the family is that moving requires many decisions that are out of our control, especially if we are not happy to be moving. This can be true for many seniors who need to relocate for a variety of reasons that they may not be happy about. A loss of control can be very frustrating for seniors who already are given very little decision-making power. It is ideal to promote senior autonomy and decision-making during the moving process. Try and involve them as much as you can in the decision-making process without overwhelming them so they feel included and still autonomous.

Relocation stress syndrome can bring more stress to an already stressful situation but giving control back to seniors, maintaining their daily routine, and making space for their community can all help them ease through the transition. During the move, it may be appropriate to consider hiring extra help around the house in order to ease the physical demands expected from the senior. Hiring a personal caregiver can not only help keep them on their routine but also provide company that can help them process their complicated emotions.

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