What is Transfer Trauma?

Change can be difficult for everyone. Have you heard of the term, “Transfer Trauma?” According to the Wisconsin Relocation Ombudsman Specialist, Tom LaDuke, transfer trauma is a term that is used to describe physical, mental, and emotional changes that occur in residents of institutional settings who are moved from one place to another.1 This can be the result of a natural disaster, or a facility closing, or a change in care. Some of the physical issues that appear include disorientation, falls, contusions, fractures, infections and increased difficulties with medical conditions.2 Psychological issues can include increased anxiety, confusion, agitation and depression. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging, these effects can result in increased illness rates and even the risk of death. Transfer trauma is a recognized diagnosis. It is a normal reaction to change.

Transfer trauma can occur even when a resident is being moved to a new room in the same facility, sometimes due to needing a different level of care. Even the smallest changes can affect resident’s health, emotions, and psychological well-being adversely. It is recommended that staff prepare residents for changes prior to any move, during the move and following it. Some of the behaviors can appear several weeks after the move takes place. If a resident is being moved due to a planned discharge, the discharge planning meeting can put steps in place to minimize the possible effects from transfer trauma.

Having the caregivers at the new location prepared for the residents is very important. When transfer trauma does occur, the staff can help the resident by reassuring them, maintaining daily routines, and orienting the resident to their new surroundings2. Open communication with the resident is essential—letting them know what’s happening during the transfer so that they can express their needs and be a part of the process. It is crucial that staff ensure that the resident’s medical records travel with them. Also, staff need to monitor the residents being transferred for any difficulties in getting the care they need.

1 La Duke, T. (2007). Relocating Nursing Home Residents in Closures: State of Wisconsin Board on Aging and Long Term Care. Used with permission from Thomas La Duke; Relocation Ombudsman Specialist State of Wisconsin- Board on Aging and Long Term Care.
2 Spader, C. (2005, November 21). Understanding Transfer Trauma, NurseWeek, 1-5. © (2005) Gannett Healthcare Group. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.


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