The Stress of a Move on Seniors

by Bruce Montgomery Ph.D. September 18, 2016

The Stress of a Move on Seniors

If you’ve ever moved before, whether it be once or a dozen times, you understand just how stressful the process of moving can be. First of all, you’ve got to find a new home that fits your budget and your needs, you’ve got to get your finances figured out while working to sell your own house at the same time. After you’ve successfully purchased your new home, it’s time to plan your move, which brings a whole new set of stressful tasks. All of these tasks and the emotions that come with them can be more than disruptive for many. For some, just the thought of relocating can hold them back for years before they actually do it. Developed in the 1960’s by psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, The Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory ranks moving as number 32 on a list of 43 of life’s most traumatic events. For our senior population, this holds very true. The stress of a move on older adults is not something to take lightly. For seniors, we have to see that moving is way more than moving.


What is Relocation Stress Syndrome?


Relocation Stress Syndrome, or RSS is a formal nursing diagnosis, which is characterized by a variety of physiological and psychological disturbances that occur as a result of a person transferring from one environment to another. For seniors especially, the symptoms can be debilitating. As one can imagine, transitioning from one place that you’ve called home for decades, where you’ve collected your most prized items and memories, to a brand new and unfamiliar place is sure to have some negative implications on anyway, but it’s the worst for seniors. Symptoms of RSS include sleep disturbances, grief and loss, depression, anxiety, exhaustion, and disorientation—all of which are exacerbated by dementia, poor physical health, lack of a support system, or any type of sensory impairment.


Although initial studies on seniors and RSS focused on the outcome of moving seniors or individuals to nursing homes and assisted living facilities without their involvement or consent, RSS is now a more generalized term that can affect those who have been actively involved in their choice to move as well. All the more reason to treat a move of your parents or grandparents, no matter if it is involuntary or voluntarily, with great care and consideration.

How to offset RSS

The following actions have proven successful in a variety of studies on RSS in minimizing the effects on seniors during a transition or a move. Remember that each move and every situation is different and consulting a doctor or a professional senior move manager is always encouraged before during and after you try any of these suggestions! Suggestions include:

  • Whether or not the senior is willingly being relocated or not, involve them in the decision and planning process as much as possible.
  • Allow your senior to ask as many questions as they need to feel comfortable and keep an open dialogue going to discuss any concerns.
  • Help them stay as organized as possible during the move so as to make the unpacking process as seamless as possible.
  • Pay close attention to their daily routine and try and keep that going throughout the moving process.
  • Help the senior set up their new room or home to resemble their old home as much as you can.
  • Assist them in becoming acclimated to their new home and their surroundings and neighborhood.

Senior Move Management

It stands to reason that regardless of age or situation, being more in control and feeling more involved in the decision and process of moving should make things easier and lead to a quicker recovery after all is said and done. Unfortunately, for seniors, this isn’t always possible. While family members may mean well, when a senior isn’t capable of living independently any longer, the circumstances don’t allow for active involvement by the senior. In cases like this, a professional senior move manager can offer assistance to ease the stress of moving for all parties involved in relocating a senior. The National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM) is a group of professionals that specialize in helping older adults and their families with the daunting process of downsizing and moving to a new place of residence. For anyone thinking about helping a loved one or senior they know get started with this type of transition, it never hurts to have a little help!


Bruce Montgomery Ph.D.
Bruce Montgomery Ph.D.


Dr. Bruce Montgomery is a licensed building contractor in Michigan and Florida. He is a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist as designated by the National Association of Home Builders. He has also achieved an Executive Certificate in Home Modification from the University of Southern California. He has a wide ranging educational background, including a Master of Science degree in Entomology, with a Master of Science degree in Forestry and a Ph.D. in educational administration.