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How to Reduce Transfer Trauma for a Person with Dementia

By Kim Warchol, edited & revised by Katie Hamann

What is Transfer Trauma?

Transfer trauma is a term used to describe the stress that a person with dementia may experience when changing living environments. Transfer trauma is more commonly seen in the person with early stage dementia and when one is moving into a facility from their lifelong home. The length of time and severity of the transfer trauma is quite individual. For some, the stress associated with the movemay be fairly significant, and for others mild or not at all. The stress may last for a few days, or a few weeks.

This stress is usually temporary in nature and relieved as the individual builds friendships, gains trust, and develops a sense of purpose and belonging in their new community.

It is important to be aware that many individuals with dementia will experience transfer trauma when they move in to long-term care, and therefore there should be a proactive plan in place to minimize its effects and duration.

What to Expect After Moving Day

We must also try to facilitate a sense of real purpose and belonging by encouraging the residents to do as much for themselves as desired and to make themselves at home.

For example, residents should be encouraged to use the laundry facilities, make themselves a cup of coffee, get their own cereal in the morning, straighten up their room, turn theTV on to watch the baseball game, host a family party in the private dining area, tend the garden, deliver the mail, etc. Whatever they desire, they should be enabled to do. This is what helps make the new environment their home.

The family may also experience stress and guilt during the first couple of weeks after they have made the decision to move their loved one into the community. This is quite normal.

Often in the early stage of dementia, a person does not recognize their own deficits. In fact, they believe that they're still capable of caring for themselves, when in reality they are not. Lack of safety is usually an initial sign and a reason many families choose to move their loved ones into a community.

This lack of awareness and recognition of deficits by the person with dementia puts added stress on the family. It is common for residents call their families and say, "Why have you done this to me? I disagree with this decision. I am fully capable of living at home. I don't want to stay here anymore."

A lot of resolve is required to stay the course. Do not bend or waiver in the decision. Families often know the time has come for their loved one to live in a supervised, specialized community. Is this difficult? Absolutely, staying true to this decision can be challenging.

Your family member with dementia is experiencing a new living environment which promotes their individuality and their functional and emotional potential. You can expect to hear from the community regarding progress, how the family can help and support, and expectations. It is also recommended that you join an Alzheimer's Support Group in which families can receive support and guidance from others who have experienced the guilt and stress of moving someone into a long-term community. There is much power in families sharing with one another.

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