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Relocation Stress Syndrome

Written by Sam van Kalkeren
Published on February 2, 2024

Relocation Stress, Transfer Fatigue, and Transfer Trauma in Moving Individuals with Dementia to Assisted Living or Memory Care

Relocating individuals with dementia to more supportive environments like assisted living or memory care facilities is often a necessary and challenging decision for both families and caregivers. It is laden with psychological and emotional stress for individuals with dementia, their caregivers, and family members. 

Why move someone with dementia to a more supportive environment?

Dementia is a progressive neurodegenerative condition that profoundly affects an individual’s cognitive and functional abilities. As the disease advances, the need for specialized care becomes increasingly evident. Moving someone with dementia to assisted living or a memory care facility is often a crucial decision made with the individual’s best interests in mind. However, this transition can be fraught with emotional and psychological challenges for the individual, their families, and caregivers. This can include relocation stress, transfer fatigue, and transfer trauma.

Relocation Stress

Relocation stress refers to the emotional and psychological strain experienced by individuals with dementia when moving from their familiar home environment to a new and often unfamiliar setting, such as an assisted living or memory care facility. This stress can manifest in various ways, including anxiety, agitation, depression, and behavioral disturbances.

Causes of Relocation Stress

Several factors contribute to relocation stress in individuals with dementia:

Disruption of Familiarity

Dementia patients often rely on the familiar surroundings of their homes for a sense of security and comfort. Relocating disrupts this familiarity, leading to confusion and disorientation.

Loss of Independence

Moving to a care facility often involves a loss of autonomy, as individuals may no longer have control over their daily routines or decisions about their care.

Separation from Loved Ones

Being separated from family members and friends can intensify feelings of isolation and loneliness, exacerbating the stress of the move.

Unfamiliar Caregivers

Adjusting to a new team of caregivers can be unsettling for individuals with dementia, as it requires building new relationships and trust.

Mitigating Relocation Stress

To mitigate relocation stress, several strategies can be employed:

Careful Planning

Involving the individual with dementia in the decision-making process and planning the move can help reduce the shock of the transition.

Familiar Objects

Bringing familiar objects, such as photographs, blankets, or favorite belongings, to the new environment can provide comfort.

Gradual Transition

Whenever possible, transitioning individuals gradually into their new living arrangements can ease the shock of the change.

Transfer Fatigue

Transfer fatigue, sometimes referred to as transition fatigue, is the physical and emotional exhaustion experienced by individuals with dementia, their families, and caregivers during the process of relocating to assisted living or memory care facilities. This fatigue can result from the numerous logistical and emotional challenges associated with moving.

Causes of Transfer Fatigue

Several factors contribute to transfer fatigue:

Decision-Making Burden

Families and caregivers must make difficult decisions about the timing and location of the move, as well as the level of care required.

Logistics and Planning

The logistics of moving, including packing, paperwork, and coordinating with the new care facility, can be overwhelming.

Emotional Toll

Witnessing the distress of a loved one with dementia during the move can take an emotional toll on family members and caregivers.

Adjustment Period

Adapting to the new environment and routines can be physically and emotionally draining for individuals with dementia and their caregivers.

Coping with Transfer Fatigue

To cope with transfer fatigue, it is essential to:

Seek Support

Families and caregivers should reach out to support networks, including dementia support groups, counselors, and healthcare professionals, to share their experiences and seek guidance.


Caregivers must prioritize self-care to prevent burnout, ensuring they have the physical and emotional resources to provide the best care possible.

Recognize the Process

Understanding that transfer fatigue is a common part of the relocation process can help individuals and caregivers navigate the challenges more effectively.

Transfer Trauma

Transfer trauma is a severe emotional response that can occur when individuals with dementia are moved to new care settings. It is characterized by extreme distress, confusion, and behavioral disturbances. Transfer trauma can negatively affect the individual’s mental and emotional well-being.

Causes of Transfer Trauma

Several factors contribute to transfer trauma:

Loss of Familiarity

The sudden loss of familiar surroundings, routines, and people can trigger intense distress and disorientation.

Unpredictable Environment

The new care facility may present unfamiliar sounds, sights, and routines, heightening the individual’s anxiety.

Inadequate Support

Inadequate support and communication during the transition can exacerbate feelings of abandonment and helplessness.

Unresolved Grief

Individuals may experience grief and a sense of loss related to leaving their home, which can contribute to trauma.

Preventing Transfer Trauma

Preventing transfer trauma requires a combination of compassionate care and effective communication:

Person-Centered Care

Providing personalized care that respects the individual’s preferences and needs can help ease the transition.

Open Communication

Families and caregivers should maintain open communication with the individual, explaining the reasons for the move and offering reassurance. 

Transition Support

Specialized transition programs and support staff trained in dementia care can play a crucial role in minimizing trauma.

Relocating individuals with dementia to assisted living or memory care facilities is a complex decision fraught with emotional and psychological challenges. Understanding the concepts of relocation stress, transfer fatigue, and transfer trauma is essential for families and caregivers. By recognizing the potential difficulties and implementing strategies to mitigate these challenges, we can help ensure a smoother transition and improved quality of life for individuals with dementia in their new supportive environments. Compassion, communication, and support are crucial to minimizing the emotional toll of such a significant life change.

Contact O’Connor Professional Group Today

If you are caring for a person with a neurocognitive disorder and need support for yourself or assistance devising a plan for choosing a care facility, please contact us today. Our team of compassionate care coordinators and consultants will help you with the long-term care decision-making process and provide you with the guidance you need.

Traveling with dementia

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