Moving Advice for Seniors and People with Disabilities

November 6, 2017
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Moving and relocating your home can be one of the most stressful life experiences you’ll face.

Moving can bring logistical challenges, the financial burden of unexpected costs, and sentimental sadness associated with saying goodbye the place you’ve called home for years. For seniors and individuals living with a disability, the stress of moving can be complicated by the physical challenges of packing heavy boxes and moving furniture and learning to adapt to a new, unfamiliar environment.

If you or a loved one will be moving, this guide has been designed to help educate seniors, disabled adults, and/or their loved ones and provide the helpful information necessary to plan and execute a safe, well-organized, and stress-free move. We’ve provided tips for:

  • Pre-planning the moving process and packing belongings
  • Moving within a budget
  • Maintaining the safety of everyone involved in the move, especially those with limited mobility or those living with a physical impairment
  • Suggestions for dealing with the emotional turmoil that can surround a home relocation

Before you begin the process of planning a relocation, whether for yourself or a loved one, review this guide to ensure you are prepared emotionally, physically, and financially.

Strategizing the Move and Planning for Success

Moving can pose significant logistical challenges, especially if you have unique home accommodation needs, are downsizing, or are moving out of a home where you’ve lived for several decades and have accumulated significant belongings. The best way to complete a move of any size, whether upsizing, down-sizing, or right-sizing, is to plan ahead and to consider as many details and logistics as possible. Consider the tips below when planning for a move, especially if you have age or health-related limitations to consider.

  1. Create a “Moving Timeline.” Working backward from the day of the move, set key milestones for all the tasks that will need to be completed such as:
    • Making decisions regarding your belongings. Start deciding which items you will donate or sell, and which items you will bring with you (Six months prior).
    • Hiring movers or coordinating with friends/family to assist (At least four months prior).
    • Starting to pack (At least two months prior).
    • Renting the moving van. (One month prior).
    • Scheduling utility services. Make arrangements to have utilities turned on/off at your current and future properties (One month prior).
    • Forwarding your mail (One month prior).
    • Notifying contacts of your new address. This should include friends, family, financial institutions, and all healthcare professionals and caregivers (One month prior).
    • Finishing packing all your boxes (At least one day prior).
  2. Determine When and Where Help Will Be Needed. If you are living with a mobility, vision, cognitive, or other disability or age-related condition, you’ll likely need assistance packing and moving, especially when it comes to heavy objects. Reach out early to friends, family, or neighbors and ask in advance for help packing, and/or loading items into the truck on moving day. Don’t try to do too much on your own. Your moving process will only become more stressful if you suffer an injury attempting to move heavy items unassisted.
  3. Consider Professional Assistance. Seniors and adults with physical disabilities, in particular, may benefit from the assistance of professional movers. Contact several local organizations at the start of your planning process to verify their availability and confirm you can afford their services as part of your moving budget (more on financial considerations later). Ideally, choose a moving service that has proven experience in moving seniors, or individuals with disabilities.
  4. Consider a Senior Moving Service. Today, a growing number of services are available to assist seniors with moving-related logistics. A senior move manager can help to coordinate your move from start to finish. Senior move managers are particularly experienced in assisting seniors with the emotional stress that can accompany a transition from a long-time family home to someplace new. Contact the National Association of Senior Move Managers for more information, or to find a local resource.
  5. Stay Organized by Keeping Move-Related Information in a Dedicated Notebook. Keep all important move-related information in a notebook, including contact information for the moving company, utility services, the timeline you created in step one, your budget (more on that later), and contact information for accessible health care facilities or providers, if needed during the move.
  6. Decide Which Items You’re Taking with You. For many individuals, especially older adults who have accumulated a lifetime of memories in their home, this process can feel most daunting and emotionally straining. Lean on family members and friends to help you decide what items you can, and should take with you, based on the space you’ll have available in your new home. When trying to decide if an item should be packed or parted with, ask yourself these questions:
    • When was the last time I used this?
    • Does this serve a valuable purpose, or make my day-to-day living easier?
    • Do I own more than one of these, or an item that is similar that could serve the same purpose?
    • Is this item irreplaceable, or does it have sentimental value?
    • Can I get by without it?
    • Is it in reliable shape/full working order?
    • Could someone I know get more use out of it?
    • Ask your loved ones if they could benefit from any furniture or belongings you won’t be taking. Other items may be sold at a garage sale or donated to an organization such as the Salvation Army, which often is able to assist with donation pick-ups.
  7. Pack Slowly and Methodically. After you decide what items you’re taking with you, packing can still feel overwhelming, especially if you are suffering from mobility, vision, or cognitive issues. If you will be coordinating any of the packing on your own, take your time, working slowly and carefully not to move any items that are too heavy for you to move without assistance. Start with the rooms that may have the most clutter, like the attic, basement, or storage closest, and pack first those items that you are least likely to need between now and move day. Label boxes as you work. If you suffer from memory or cognitive issues, ask for assistance. Set a goal to pack a small area, such as a set of drawers, or one closet, each day.
  8. Consider Putting Excess Furniture and Sentimental Items in Storage. If there are items that have strong sentimental meaning, but aren’t necessarily useful or needed right now, you might want to put them in a safe storage location. This way they are preserved for children or grandchildren, but aren’t weighing down your loved one’s move. You can choose a location near the old home or new home, depending on which makes more sense for your family.
  9. Make Decisions About Furniture. If you live with a disability, you’ve likely already made sure your new home will be accessible based on your needs. You’ll still need to make decisions regarding furniture and belongings. Based on the floor plan and square footage of your new home, determine what pieces of furniture you’ll be able to bring with you, and where each piece will go in your new living space. Furniture templates can help you make decisions about room layouts and furniture placements before you arrive at your new home, helping to mitigate the moving and re-moving of bulky furniture. Especially if you have vision or mobility issues, you’ll want to ensure your new home is clean, organized and free from trip-and-fall hazards as soon as possible after you arrive.
  10. Make Cleaning Arrangements. You’ll want to clean your current home after you’ve removed all your belongings and ensure your new home is clean before you settle in. Friends or family may be able to assist with day-of cleaning, or you may be able to hire a professional cleaning service—just be sure to coordinate in advance.
  11. Make Health Care Arrangements. If you’re relocating out of the area ask your doctors for referrals to new health care specialists, based on your treatment needs, and check if any of the specialist health services you currently receive can be transferred. You’ll want to make these arrangements a few months in advance so that if you are in need of health care soon after arriving, you’ll know where to go and any new providers will have your health history information on file.
  12. Identify Local Centers for Independent Living. In advance of your move, identify what resources or available services exist in your new hometown for seniors or adults with disabilities. Such services can help ease the uncertainty of day-to-day logistics until you settle into a new routine.
  13. Pack a Suitcase. Even though you’ll be moving all of your important belongings, in the first 24 to 48 hours after you move you’ll want quick and convenient access to important belongings, such as toiletries, a few clean pairs of clothes, and any medications. Packing such items in a small overnight bag will help you feel settled on your first night and will help alleviate the stress of trying to find key personal items among a stack of boxes.
  14. Make Arrangements for You to Arrive Safely at Your New Home. Especially if you will be moving across the state—or country—you’ll need to make arrangements for how you will travel to your final destination. Just because your belongings are road tripping across the country by van doesn’t mean you need to travel with them. At the same time, a physical disability may make air travel uncomfortable or impossible. Talk to your doctor to determine what may be the best long-distance travel option for you. You may also want to ask a friend or family member to travel with you to ensure you’re safely able to manage travel logistics, especially if an unexpected travel delay or issue occurs.
  15. Make Arrangements for Pets. If you will be relocating with a pet or service animal, make sure to make arrangements for their travel. If you are relocating locally, they may need care the day-of the move while you coordinate logistics. If your pet is a service or emotional support animal, you’ll want to keep your pet with you during the move, so make sure you have a plan to keep them with you, and safe during the transition.

Disabled business executive in wheelchair using digital tablet

Budgeting for the Move

Sometimes the primary reason for a home relocation is to ensure a more affordable long-term living situation, especially for seniors living on a fixed budget, or for individuals facing costly, ongoing health care needs. Even if you’ll be saving money long-term there are one-time costs associated with moving that need to be taken into consideration. Unfortunately, there are often unexpected, or “hidden” costs associated with moving that can add stress and financial strain to an already difficult situation.

As part of your moving planning process, take the time to determine, in advance, what your moving budget is, then work hard to make decisions regarding resources, supplies, and services that fit within your budget. Make your budget as detailed as possible. It’s better to be under budget in the end than over budget. In particular, take the budgetary items listed below into consideration.

  1. Create a Budget and Organize Expenses by Category. To make your budget as detailed, and reliable as possible, organize expenses into categories, such as movers, travel/transportation, supplies/materials, moving insurance, etc. Keep your budget in your moving journal and keep it updated as you incur additional expenses, receive estimates, or your plans change.
  2. Adaptable Modifications. If your new home will require some modifications in order to accommodate any mobility or special needs you may have, work with a contractor or expert resource to obtain estimates. Then, factor the cost of any home modifications into your budget, as they may end up being one of your most significant move-related financial investments.
  3. Estimate the Cost of Your Moving Service or Mode of Transportation. Before you sign a contract with any moving service, ask for a written estimate and be sure it fits within your budget. Make sure any moving companies provide an estimate while inside your home, and not over the phone. It will be more accurate if they can see the items they’ll be moving. Specifically, ask for full itemization and an explanation of possible hidden fees. Keep in mind that even if you are relying on friends and family members for assistance moving your belongings, you’ll need to pay for gas—an expense that will add up quickly if you’re traveling across the country or even making multiple trips across town. AAA offers an online tool for calculating gas costs associated with road travel.
  4. Moving Insurance. If you have valuable belongings or costly medical equipment that you need to be able to integrate into your new home, you may want to consider investing in moving insurance. If you are working with a moving company, most will provide moving insurance, but if you may want to consider an additional third-party policy to cover your valuables.
  5. Budget for the Little Things. Packing supplies, such as boxes, tape, and bubble wrap may not seem like costly expenses, but they will add up over time as you continue to need them, so don’t forget to add them to your budget. Food is another item that will add up, especially if your relocation will require a few days of road travel.
  6. Travel Fees. If you’re moving to another state and will be making the trip to your new home over the course of a few days, plan to include the cost for hotels, food, gas, tolls, and any necessary transportation costs, such as taxi fees from the airport to your new home, if you won’t be traveling with your moving vehicle. If you are traveling with your pet or service animal, you may be subject to additional airfare or hotel feels to bring your pet along, so be sure to include those costs as well.
  7. Vehicle Storage.Depending on where you’re going and what your needs will be, it is sometimes less expensive to store your vehicle than bring it with you. There are a variety of options including short-term and long-term, covered garages or open parking spaces. You can also store RVs or campers.
  8. Utilities. Whether your utilities in your new home will be greater or less, overall, than what you pay today, you should budget for one-time or initial set-up or installation fees. Make sure to get the specific fees from your utility providers, but plan to include fees associated with cable television and Internet, water, gas, and electricity.
  9. Security Deposit. If you are moving into an apartment, senior housing, or assisted living community, you may be required to pay the first two months’ rent, as well as a security deposit, and/or pet deposit if you’re bringing a pet or service animal. Add these to your overall moving budget, since they’ll likely be due at or around the time you relocate.
  10. Credit Your Budget for Sold Items. If you sell any furniture, electronics, or other items as part of your moving process, you can add any earnings back into your moving budget. If you have donated items to charity, ask for a tax deduction form so you can earn a little bit back at tax time. Click here for more information about deducting charitable donations from your taxes.
  11. Cleaning Service Fees. If you are moving out of an apartment or assisted living facility, this may be a required fee. You may also want to pay a cleaning service to assist you if mobility or vision issues make it difficult for you to deep clean your old or new property yourself. Be sure to ask for itemized costs and about the potential of any hidden fees.

If costs are a concern, there are ways to mitigate costs when you move. Consider these cost-saving tips:

  • Obtain lightly used boxes from nearby grocery or convenience stores, or a friend or family member who recently moved, rather than buying new ones.
  • If you’re a newspaper subscriber, in the months that lead up to your move use your old newspapers as padding in boxes, rather than buying bubble wrap.
  • Use old blankets, towels, and area rugs you plan to throw away to pad furniture in the moving truck, rather than paying for padding from the truck rental company.
  • If you’ll be spending a night or two in a hotel while on the road to your new home, choose a hotel that includes breakfast with your reservation.
  • It may be less expensive to move during the week than on a weekend. If you are working with a moving service, ask if there are cost-saving opportunities to move during the week.

If you’ve created your budget and still fear that you won’t be able to cover your moving expenses, you may be able to obtain financial assistance through social security, grant applications, or various local non-profit organizations.

Ensuring the Physical Safety of Seniors and Disabled Persons During a Home Move

Moving is a physically demanding process that can be exhausting for even the most able-bodied adults. If you’re a senior or an adult living with a disability, you’ll want to obtain assistance from family, friends, or a professional moving service. No matter what level of physical engagement you plan to expend on your move, follow the safety tips below to avoid injuries on moving day.

  • Don’t Over-Pack Boxes. Just because a box is large, doesn’t mean it has to be packed with large, heavy items. Aim to keep all moving boxes under 50 pounds, even if you’ll have assistance putting items on the moving truck. You’ll still need to pack and unpack their contents and could strain yourself if their contents are too heavy.
  • If it Feels Too Heavy to You, it is Too Heavy for You. You may want to help on moving day, but remember that your physical capabilities may be different from those of others. If any box or item feels too heavy for you, let someone else help you move it.
  • Use Proper Lifting Techniques. If you’ll be doing any lifting or moving at all, follow proper lifting techniques to avoid back strain.
  • Rent Necessary Equipment. Use of a dolly, moving cart, moving straps, hand truck, forearm forklift, furniture slider, and other moving equipment can help mitigate the chance of an injury or strain. Make sure you and your movers have access to other important safety equipment, such as gloves.
  • Check Your New Home for Hazards. Before you move any items into your new home, check the interior and surrounding areas for any trip-and-fall hazards, such as cracked sidewalks or uneven steps, and avoid them if at all possible. Be sure to consider weather-related hazards too. If you’re moving to a cold, snowy climate, or if it’s raining on move day, indoor and outdoor surfaces may become hazardous. Non-slip mats may help you and your movers travel safely in and out as you load and unload the moving truck.
  • Dress Appropriately. Wear proper footwear and comfortable, breathable, not too-baggy clothes, even if your efforts will be minimal on move day. You’ll still be navigating temporarily hazardous areas that could be cluttered with boxes and furniture, so you’ll want to be as comfortable as possible.
  • Place Boxes in Their Proper Rooms from the Start. You should have properly labeled your boxes with their content, so ask your movers to place boxes in their appropriate rooms (e.g., boxes labeled “bedroom” should go in your bedroom, and not be left in a hallway, or the downstairs office). This will limit the need to move boxes later on and help you get unpacked and organized quickly.
  • Keep High Traffic Areas Clear of Obstacles. Especially if you have a mobility or vision impairment, you’ll want to ensure the high traffic areas are kept clear throughout the move. As soon as possible, make sure your furniture is situated in its proper place at your new home, and any unpacked boxes are left in an out-of-the-way location.
  • Monitor Your Pet or Service Animal. Make sure you know where your pet or service animal is at all times and that it’s not posing a trip-and-fall hazard to movers or yourself. Also, be sure that your pet can’t wander out of the house through an open door while movers are coming and going.
  • Keep a First Aid Kit Accessible. The kits should include band-aids, cleansing products, ice packs, antibacterial ointment, aspirin, and any care items you personally may need, such as prescription medications.
  • Avoid Moving Flammable Substances. Properly dispose of any flammable substances before you move, and plan to purchase new products, if necessary, once settled in your new home. This includes matches, paint thinners, aerosol cans and other flammable chemicals. It’s likely that any professional moving company you contract with will advise that they will not move such items either.
  • Stay Hydrated and Well Fed. The day of the move may be long and exhausting. Even if you’re only supervising the movement of heavy boxes, stay hydrated and make sure your movers stay well fed and hydrated too.
  • Keep Your Cell Phone Charged. In the event of an emergency, you’ll want to be able to immediately call for help, so make sure you have a cell phone nearby that is charged and accessible at all times.

Avoid the Most Common Move-Related Injuries

Keep in mind the most common injuries and accidents that occur during a move to help ensure you and anyone providing assistance stays safe on move day. The most common moving-related injuries or accidents include:

  • Back injuries caused by straining to lift and move too-heavy boxes
  • Slips and falls due to hazardous debris inside or outside the home
  • Trips or stumbles in areas cluttered by boxes or furniture
  • Overheating or exhaustion, especially if your move is taking place on a hot day
  • Jammed fingers that get wedged between walls and heavy objects
  • Weather-related slippery surfaces

After you’ve put all your furniture and belongings away, ask a loved one for assistance ensuring your new home is safe and accessible.

Happy couple in love taking selfie in urban city background - Disability positive concept with man on wheelchair - Vintage retro filtered look with soft focus on smiling woman due to sun flare halo

Dealing with the Emotional Strain of a Move

Humans are naturally sentimental beings who find comfort and a sense of identity in their home—especially in a home that’s been built over decades with family and loved ones. Leaving behind a house to transition to a location better suited to your needs does not have to mean leaving behind the memories you made, or the life you lived there. Know that while a home is an important place of comfort, it does not define us or withhold our memories when we move.

Why is Moving So Hard?

Gerontologists, individuals who study the social, cultural, psychological, cognitive, and biological aspects of aging, compare the emotional stress of moving for seniors to the sensation of losing a loved one, and for good reason. To many senior adults, leaving a beloved home can feel like a personal loss or the loss of one’s independence. The emotions that many people experience during a move are true symptoms of an emotional condition that can affect us during times of relocation.

Whether an individual is moved against their will (such as a senior who resists the need to move into a nursing home) or as part of a voluntary decision to relocate, a condition known as relocation stress syndrome (RSS) may occur. RSS, or transfer trauma, is a condition characterized by both physiologic and psychologic disturbances that come about as a result of moving from one environment to another. It is a very real, very difficult emotional condition that affects many individuals when they move, especially seniors who are experiencing a significant lifestyle change or leaving behind a home they have spent decades making their own. Symptoms of RSS may include:

  • Exhaustion
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Loneliness
  • Confusion
  • Anger
  • Insecurity, lack of trust, or a need for excessive reassurance
  • Feelings of sadness, grief, and loss
  • Feeling disoriented

For individuals living with cognitive or memory issues, including dementia or mild cognitive impairment, or who suffer from other health issues or sensory impairment, being relocated can be an extremely scary confusing, and devastating time. RSS has even been linked to an increased likelihood of falls, decreased sufficient self-care, and other health issues.

Minimizing RSS Symptoms in Seniors

If your senior loved one is experiencing emotional and physical stress over moving, consider the following suggestions to help ease symptoms:

  • Ensure the senior takes an active role in the planning and decision-making process. Your loved one will have an easier time adapting to change if they feel as though they are still in control of their home life and living situation.
  • Check in with your loved one often to ask how they are feeling and discuss concerns that could arise throughout the process.
  • Help your loved one maintain a consistent schedule, and important comforting routines. If they play Bingo every Saturday, or drinks tea at the kitchen table while reading the newspaper every morning, enable them to continue these traditions, no matter where they live.
  • Allow your loved one to retain essential possessions of sentimental value.
  • Make sure your loved one is part of the set-up process at their new home. It will be important for them to feel as though they have control of their new surroundings, and that they can make it their own.
  • If familiarity is important, help ensure your loved one’s new surroundings feel familiar. Even mirror the set-up of their previous home, if possible. It may be as simple as ensuring the same brown chair is in the far-right corner of the room with the same blanket draped over the back. Small details can be significant in a new, unfamiliar setting.
  • Talk through the move with your parents.

Tips for Moving on and Moving Away

Even if you’re not feeling plagued by RSS, moving can be stressful, and at times, sad. Feeling nostalgic during a move is completely normal, but don’t let it overshadow the excitement of the new, more appropriate home or lifestyle you’ve chosen to pursue. What follows are suggestions to help make the burden of moving, especially if you’re downsizing, feel less like letting go of your family history.

  • Ask for Help Packing, or Parting With, Sentimental Items – You may not be comfortable asking professional movers to pack items of sentimental value. At the same time, it may be too emotionally straining to pack or part with them yourself. Ask a friend or loved one for help so you can stay focused on the positive reasons for the move, and all the benefits you have before you.
  • Find New Ways to Hold on to Your Memories – If an item has extremely significant sentimental value to you—like the very first gift your spouse gave you on your first wedding anniversary—you don’t have to force yourself to part with it. That being said, if you can’t take the item with you (perhaps it’s a piano that won’t fit in your new home), you don’t have to part with its memory fully. Consider taking a framed photo of the item to your new home instead. In doing so, you can separate the memory from the physical item and still feel like you’ve brought the item—or what it signifies to you—to your new home.
  • Share Items with Loved Ones – You may not be able to take certain items with you, but you may have happiness in giving them a new home with a family member. Perhaps your wedding china could be a gift to your newly engaged granddaughter, or your photo albums could be shared among relatives living in different areas.
  • Document Your Home in Photographs – If you worry that your memories of your home may fade after you leave it behind, especially if you are already suffering from memory loss, ask for help taking photos of the specific places you want to remember most—like your garden, or the doorframe with your children’s growth chart is etched into the wood. The photos can then be framed and displayed in your new home. In a way, having such images will help make your new home feel familiar, and more like a place where you belong.
  • Don’t be Too Hard on Yourself – Give yourself the time and space you need to come to terms with the fact that your life is changing in a significant way and the reasons why. You may be relocating to be closer to family members who can help support you with your day-to-day health care needs. Or, perhaps you’ve suffered an accident or injury and are now living with a disability that makes personal safety in your current home impossible. No matter the reason, your life is changing, and it’s okay to need time and space to understand what that means and accept the positive outcomes that will surely follow.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help – Or to let someone close to you know that you need to talk. It’s also okay to let go. If you are feeling guilty for seeking out a better lifestyle, accept that you’re not forgetting about, or walking away from, the life you lived before. Your past has made you who you are, and you’re taking your memories with you to your new home.

The same need for understanding is true if you are helping an older parent or disabled loved one in the relocation process. Understand that we all handle change differently and that some of us need more time, space, or compassion during the process. Don’t be too hard on those who experience good and bad moments (or days) in the process.


If you are making a move into a new home, remember that the most important thing you should focus on bringing with you is your health. Part of your reason for moving may be to ensure your home offers a safe environment and enables you to lead a full, independent life. No matter your reason, make sure to take the time to plan so that you can enjoy the benefits of emotional, physical, and financial health in your new home.


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About the SpareFoot Blog

The SpareFoot Blog offers tips about self-storage, information about storage auctions, advice about home organization, news about SpareFoot and much more.
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