Transfer Trauma: Mitigating the Effects on the Elderly

Due to my medical background and working with the aged I decided to share information on “Elder Transfer Trauma” and ways of assisting in the transitioning from one home to another. Have you ever thought what it truly feels like when you have to give up the only place you know? When I ask this question it could occur at any age. Take for example having to move to a new school, transferring to a new job or having to relocate your entire family. As we get older and we are unable to care for ourselves and we depend on our children or families to care for us. What happens when we are stricken with a grave disease such as Dementia or Alzheimer’s? This in itself is such a hard process of understanding and not knowing what changes are taking place in our lives. To fully understand or acknowledge these changes is very difficult.

In Kate Jackson’s recent article, “Prevent Elder Transfer Trauma: Tips to Ease Relocation Stress she explained that the symptoms of transfer trauma may occur before, during, and for several months after a move and may be mild or severe depending on the individual and the circumstances. We must realize when we move our loved ones from their home along with taking away their free agency we must not forget how hard this will be for the person. We need to be observant to the feelings and emotions they are experiencing. In this same article it discussed a person’s mood may change, they may feel depressed, sad, experience bouts of crying, or even become irritated or angry. Along another line these individuals who are experiencing memory difficulty may truly believe they have been kidnapped, taken from their homes, or call 9-1-1 for help. At times these individuals may say “I want to go home.” This is where the symptoms of Transfer Trauma could develop if not addressed, which can affect a person’s cognitive and physical functioning.

So, who is at risk for Transfer Trauma? Basically, according to Green Mitnz, “any time there’s a move, there’s potential for transfer trauma. But the risk is greater, she says, for individuals with dementia who can’t participate in decision making and have difficulty assimilating new information.” We also need to be mindful of those of suffer from Alzheimer’s and how the progression of that disease can impact the elderly person’s perception of current events.

So it is important for families who make the decision to move their loved ones from their home to remember the following:

  1. Advocate for appropriate services for eldery patients to decrease transfer trauma
  2. Advocate for communication among all involved parties.
  3. Remember to involve the person who is going to be moving in the discussion and take into account their wishes and ideas.
  4. Arrange for the individual visit the facility prior to transfer.

Kim Warchol, OTR/L founder and President of Dementia Care Specialists suggested the following strategies:

  1. Overemphasize welcoming the person into the new community.
  2. Work on building strong relationships between staff and residents.
  3. Remember to use appropriate language. Do not refer to the new home as a ‘facility’ or a ‘lock down facility.’
  4. Reiterate the person is a valued.
  5. Gain trust and respect.
  6. Relatives can provide information to staff. For example, what their love ones habits are.
  7. Keep families in the loop of normalcy for change does occur in a person.
  8. Remember adjusting to a new place takes times so all parties involved must be mindful of this.

Change is not easy so be mindful of our elderly family and friends when decisions have to be made on their behalf. We must remember taking a person away from their home because of safety reasons also takes away their freedom. We must remember how hard of a decision it is to have to remove our loved ones from their home and place them into a family home or placement into a long-term facility. Remember it is not easy for you to make the decision, but it is not easy on your love one either. If you remember one thing think back to when you were stressed and worried about moving to a new town, leaving your children at daycare, or having to be displaced because of today’s economy. This gives a small sense of what people who are experiencing Transfer Trauma could be experiencing.

I hope this gave some insight on Transfer Trauma and how to help loved ones cope with this issue.

Petra Gil-Vigie, MSW, ASW Mosaic Counseling Intern

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