Transfer Trauma: Moving Stress on Seniors and Families
Elders face disorientation and fear with changing living situations.
By Dr. Marion Somers, Ph.D.
When a senior is moved to a new location, it can often take some time for him/her to adjust to the situation. Even just moving to a room with a window in the same facility or institution can cause problems. This is known as “transfer trauma.” Everything familiar has changed, and you have to take that into account. Give your elder loved one time to get used to the new environment. This includes adjusting to the new sounds, the smells, the other people, and the food. This adjustment period can take longer for those who are non-verbal.
Often, your elder will be dealing with a certain level of disorientation and fear when he/she moves. Sometimes there are new roommates to get to know. There might be a new staff of aides to learn to recognize and trust. Do what you can to facilitate a level of comfort as soon as possible. Talk with your senior about the move and remind him/her why the change was made. Your senior needs to be reassured that the new environment is safe and positive and that he/she is going to be OK. It's also important to let your loved one know that the family is going to visit often.
Transfer trauma can often cause the senior's family to become concerned since he/she isn't acting like him/herself. Memory loss, a higher level of agitation, and lack of appetite are all signs of transfer trauma. The problem can become compounded when the family calls a doctor to correct these issues. Always allow a few days before any doctors are asked to address these symptoms and be sure to alert any doctors who may be involved that there has been a change in your elder's environment. You don't want your elder to receive unnecessary medication or treatment when he/she just needs time to adjust to the new surroundings.
A version of this blog appeared on Dr. Marion's Web Site.
Published February 11, 2012