When you first moved out of your parents’ home you may have lived in an apartment or lived with roommates. The point is, wherever you lived you didn’t live in the house you lived in when you eventually got married and if you are like most Americans, that wasn’t the house that you lived in when you began to have a family. Americans on the whole lead fairly nomadic lives. The average American moves 11.7 times in their lifetime according to the 2011 U.S. Census. Interestingly, the Great Recession caused fewer Americans to move than normal so that number is down from a high of 16 times in the 1960s. Pre-recession, on average about 40 million Americans moved at least once a year.
We are an immigrant culture whose forebears were immigrants and while our contemporary moves are generally modest as compared to the moves our forebears made, they have much in common with those earlier moves. Primarily they are stressful. Moving is about lossthe loss of friends, familiar places, family members, even our identity. A move eliminates our ability to know where everything is in our universe and causes us to become disoriented. This is especially true as we age.
In a brief discussing the financial and psychological effects of moving on older Americans, the study authors divided older Americans who move into two groups: those who move as a positive or proactive decision (the Planners) and those whose reaction to a change in circumstances such as their health forced them to move (the Reactors). The brief determined which participants belonged to which group by looking at whether or not the participant had undergone a shock (loss of spouse, worsened health, loss of a job) or not.
The financial consequences of a move were found to differ between the two types of movers. Those who moved as a response to a shock (the Reactors) saw an average decline in home equity of $26,000. While those who moved for other reasons (the Planners) experienced an average increase in home equity of nearly $33,000.
Yet, the impact of moving is not limited to the financial well-being of the person. In the same study, the authors calculated the impact of moving on the psychological well-being of the participants and found that generally, a Planner who moved saw positive changes in their psychological well-being as compared to a Planner who didn’t and Reactors who moved had a less negative impact than Reactors who didn’t move. In other words moving helped even for those who had experienced shock although the effect was relatively modest for them.
Increasing attention has been paid to the stress caused by moving. Enough so that it even has its own name─Relocation Stress Syndrome (RSS). RSS is a formal nursing diagnosis characterized by physiologic and psychologic disturbances that occur as a result of a patient being transferred and was formerly used when discussing changes such as a move to a nursing home or assisted living facility without the consent of the individual. But according to this article, RSS affects people regardless of whether or not the move comes as a result of their own decision or in response to medical or mental needs. RSS can occur even if the move is from one room to another. The symptoms of RSS include exhaustion, sleep disturbance, anxiety, grief and loss, depression and disorientation and may lead to increased falls, self-care deficits and weight loss.
Usually it takes some kind of emergency before people will concede that their current living arrangement is not working for them. By that time they may have physical or mental limitations that make remaining completely independent difficult or dangerous. It’s important to keep in mind that by remaining too long in a home that isn’t appropriate for remaining in seniors may be increasing their discomfort and negatively impacting their health when they are ultimately forced to make the move anyway. Even worse, according to a MetLife Report called “Rethinking Solutions to the Home Care Challenge” the problem with many senior housing situations is that they are “organized to provide care at a certain level of need, sometimes too much or too little for a particular individual. As a result, a housing arrangement often becomes a poor match, requiring residents to move multiple times, such as from a home to a hospital because of a health episode, then to a nursing home for rehabilitation, then back to the home, then on to assisted living for longer term care, etc.” So that even a decision that seemed right at the time can become less appropriate as time goes on.
This all sounds like there are no good decisions and so staying at home is the only solution even if home isn’t a healthy solution. The point of all those articles isn’t to discourage people from making a move or even making the move to stay. The point is to not trivialize what a move means to the individual making (or not making) the decision to move. It’s an important decision with potentially life-altering ramifications.
Takeaways for family members:
- If you are a family member working to move a senior, make sure to incorporate the senior into the planning of the move both from the decision to move and in the actual process. Don’t negate their concerns. Keep them informed about why they are moving and point out positive aspects of the move. Provide time for the senior to get used to the idea and listen to their input.
- Be flexible. Even if you just love an option, honor the senior’s preferences and need to maintain control over their own life.
For family members and seniors:
- Do a thorough assessment of options. Take into consideration current health and possible future health issues. Many healthcare organizations can help make assessments of an individual’s current and future healthcare or housing needs. In this area you can contact Gentiva to get an assessment.
- Whether it is you or someone you love who is moving, blunt the impact of the move by trying to keep a schedule that is as normal as possible. Make sure family and friends know about the move and ensure that things like utilities and phone service are available immediately.
- Take special care of any personal objects that have special meaning or significance and will be making the move. Take care of broaching the subject about any sorting, donating or cleaning that may need to be done. Start with a little bit at a time. It’s an emotional time and should be taken with small steps.
- Consider starting somewhere that has less meaning such as a bathroom or kitchen.
- Plan the move so that it doesn’t feel rushed and so that there is plenty of time to handle emotional moments. Take pictures and as closely as possible mimic the way the current situation is set up so that the new home will feel familiar.
- Consider hiring someone to help. A move to live with a relative or other caregiver or to senior residential housing will likely require downsizing and leaving behind prized belongings, a process that can be overwhelming and emotional. Moving on its own can be difficult and many families are geographically dispersed, making it difficult for adult children to help with the moving process. In addition, generally speaking it may have been decades since the last time a move was made so it’s important for anyone assisting with the move to emphasize the positive aspects of moving. One way to make the transition easier and to eliminate family dynamics is to hire a professional senior move manager.
Move managers function as more than movers. They can help organize, sort and downsize belongings, hire movers and oversee the process of packing your belongings, unpack and finally they can completely set up the new home so it feels like home on the very first day. The customized process is designed to reduce the stress associated with moving so that the move is seamless and uneventful.
Contact an AgingOptions Preferred Partner by clicking the link here.
Questions to ask a potential move manager
- How long have you been in business?
- What kind of experience do you have?
- Are you fully insured for liability and workers comp?
- How do you charge?
- Can you provide references?
- Choosing the new location