Preventing Transfer Trauma

Jenna Haft, LSW
Social Services Director
Abbyshire Place Skilled Nursing and Rehab

When someone is transferred from his or her home or hospital to a nursing home, whether for a long or indefinite stay, or for a short rehabilitative stay, the transition, for most people, is stressful. Due to an individual’s physical and/or mental decline, the experience can be that much more challenging on the individual and family alike. Losses of independence, especially for those who are reluctant to be admitted to a nursing facility, also create a more challenging and traumatizing transfer, and may be increasingly difficult for those with dementia who are not able to participate in decisions- making, and who are having a harder time processing new information.

transfer traumaDeterioration in health, whether it be physical or mental, may not create a need for skilled nursing care, but may also be an actual result of transferring one to a facility. Symptoms of transfer trauma may occur before, during or after a transfer. Symptoms may include, but are not limited to, feelings of sadness, anger, irritability, depression, anxiousness. Physiological symptoms of transfer trauma may include confusion, pain, falling, rapid heartbeat related to anxiety, and weight loss/gain. Behaviors that coincide with such symptoms may include combativeness, complaining, and other generally challenging behaviors.

Though it may seem as though transfer trauma is inevitable, it is not. The key to preventing or reducing transfer trauma is a smooth transition from the home or hospital to the nursing facility. Assessing the individual’s mental state and mood is to be done by the social worker upon the resident’s arrival to the facility. Nursing staff complete assessments regarding pain or physiological symptoms that the individual may exhibit that may be the result of transfer trauma. Psychiatry or psychology services may be appropriate for some individuals to work through emotions and thoughts regarding their transfer.  A key to helping to prevent transfer trauma also lies in the hands and experience of all employees, and with the resident’s family members recognizing and understanding how to handle the symptoms and behaviors related to the dementia.