Transfer Trauma

For many of us, moving our person home, to an assisted living facility, or memory care is a very hard decision! Once it’s made, you may expect things to get better. They won’t. Not at first. Your person needs a time of adjustment. They may lose cognitive abilities, become agitated, depressed, or more confused.


Transfer Trauma. It’s a real thing.

I wrote the following the week E moved from Colorado to Texas. I hope it helps some of you. (I’ll share more about how to help your person overcome Transfer Trauma at the end of this post.)


Imagine you’ve lived somewhere for months or years. You know the people you know the staff. Even if you don’t know their name, there is something familiar about their voices, their faces, their manners. You have a routine. The place looks and sounds and smells familiar. You have a room where everything you own is there, in that drawer or this closet. The food is always served at the same time and place. Your place at the table feels familiar. You recognize the faces of your table mates. You’ve found ways to get around your deficiencies and make things work; the staff helps you.

Suddenly everything changes! You are moving to a new place.

New faces. New decor. New sights. New smells. New sounds. A new room. Imagine thoughts and feelings you might have:

”My bed isn’t where it was; it smells different and feels different. The bathroom is in a different place. The toilet paper is on a different wall. Where are my favorite things!? My pictures, my soft things, my prizes from last weeks game? None of the staff look familiar; I don’t know any of them! Where is that sweet woman who helped me with my showers? Who is that in my room! What meds are you giving me to take? I don’t know you! You’re not the people I sit with; this isn’t my place at lunch. Who will I sit with now? Will anyone be my friend? When do we play that game I liked? Where is the sweet gal who helped me with my card? Why can’t I sleep? What are those noises? Where is my room?! Why does the food taste strange?”

Every time a dementia patient is moved to a new environment they struggle, even when they want the move. It’s called Transfer Trauma.

My person with dementia wanted this move, yet she’s regressed to where she was months ago! After months of improvement (she was found a year ago severely depressed, malnourished, and dehydrated. She’d made huge progress with the right nutrition, meds, and therapy.) Now I have to help her dress and remind her constantly what we are doing. She’s exhausted from the activities of packing and the travel. She confused and scared.

She loves her new room, but it’s still not unpacked and her things are not on the walls. She’s at my house for a few days while we unpack everything – she’s staying in yet another unfamiliar room without her all her treasures.

We spent the day at her new community unpacking yesterday. So many people trying to help move things. It was confusing. And exhausting.

She ate lunch in the new dining room with her wonderful and caring sister-in-law while the rest of us continued unpacking. She liked the food, but knows no one else to sit with at meals. She’s scared. All these new people!

I know it will take time and she will adjust. But it is so sad to watch her deal with Transfer Trauma.

Transfer Trauma is a term used to describe the stress that a person with dementia may experience when changing living environments such as moving from their home into a facility or from one facility to another. It typically lasts 6-8 weeks. During that time the person may appear more confused, agitated, or even depressed. They may have more cognitive issues. These changes are usually temporary, and there are things you can do to help them adjust.

There are ways to help a person with dementia overcome Transfer Trauma.

Spend time with them. Talk about what’s going on. Write down their new address or room number. Write out their new schedule. Show them where things are. Show them each time they ask. Walk with them to the dining room and eat with them. Do what you can to reassure them.

A few additional ideas:

  • When setting up their new room, place furniture and personal items as close as possible to the way the old room was.
  • Get things unpacked and settled as quickly as possible.
  • Be sure to hang familiar art or family photos on the walls.
  • Put some of their favorite knickknacks on display.
  • Label things – Closet, Bathroom, Hallway, etc.
  • Stick with the familiar routine. Meals at the same times, same bedtime, showers on the same days/times, etc.
  • If in a facility, talk with the staff about your person’s routine. Ask them to escort her to activities and introduce her to new friends.
  • If at home, limit outings and visitors until they’ve gotten more settled.

And get home health involved! Medicare will pay for home health for a person with dementia. Read this article to learn more. We have had physical therapy and speech therapy for weeks after each move. The therapists do a wonderful job of helping her adjust to her new living environment. Plus they give us helpful ideas on making the move easier for her.

Finally, be patient. The move is hard. On everyone. Give your person time to adjust. Don’t jump to conclusions like her disease has progressed, she needs stronger meds, or this was a mistake. Change is hard. Give it time.

2 thoughts on “Transfer Trauma

  1. We took pictures of the things behind the doors: Her closet full of clothes; the hallway , and which way to turn; the outside of her room door with her name on it. She had a roomie she just couldn’t adjust to, and tried to shoo the poor woman from her own bed, so we took a picture of her own bed with her own self-crocheted afghan on it. Little things, but they helped.

    This is a wise and helpful post, Kathleen. Dementia is a thief that robs the victim of his own life. Much patience needed.

    Liked by 1 person

Please tell me what you think about this post.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s