Social work and late-life downsizing

Mar 19, 2012

NASW News’ Social Work in the Public Eye: The process of downsizing can be intimidating for anyone, but especially for those transitioning into a later stage of life, according to an online article by the Associated Press/Canadian Press.

Tracy Greene-MintzOlder people who must move out of their home into a more manageable living arrangement — a term the article calls “late life downsizing” – can cause stress not only for them but also their children, the article says. Social worker Tracy Greene-Mintz, who specializes in relocation stress syndrome, says in the article that this transition can take an emotional toll on an older person, causing anxiety, depression, sleeplessness and short-term memory loss.

Deciding what possessions to get rid of and what to keep can be an overwhelming process when elderly people, through a decline in their health, are unexpectedly faced with the task of downsizing. Some people in late-life downsizing situations may have little time to sort through all of the things that have collected over the years; they have put off the inevitable until the
last minute, or they may not be able to pack up their things because of debilitating health, the article says. And it’s sometimes necessary for an older person to leave their home immediately in order to go into a more supportive living situation.

When these events occur, packing up the house is often left up to the grown children, who must go through a houseful of their parents’ things with little or no input on what to keep and what to toss. This can cause mental stress and exhaustion, the article says.

“It’s a train, and everybody gets on the moving-mom-and-dad train, and it’s easy to focus on the logistical details because they don’t require you to address the emotional aspects of the move,” Mintz says in the story. “Then mom and dad get to their (new) place and they just shut down.”

To ease the situation, Mintz suggests trying to communicate with aging parents.

“Ask mom or dad, ‘Does any of this make you feel anxious? Does any of this make you feel a little bit sad?’ “That tiny nudge goes miles toward a better outcome in the new place,” Mintz says. (

From the March 2012 NASW News.

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