Cabin Fever Among the Elderly

Cabin Fever Among the Elderly

Jim Lipman

GoFind Inc.

One consequence of the raging COVID-19 virus is that most of us in the United States, as are many citizens around the world, are under Shelter in Place (SIP) mandates, While this affects people in many ways, it has a disproportional distressing effect on our senior loved ones, especially those living at home. One major problem resulting from SIP is cabin fever among the elderly.

Wikipedia defines cabin fever as, “distressing claustrophobic irritability or restlessness experienced when a person, or group, is stuck at an isolated location or in confined quarters for an extended period of time.” Many of us are feeling this restlessness right now but our elders, many of whom have limited contact with other people, are particularly vulnerable to cabin fever right now, since in-person contact with friends and family is severely curtailed. There are several reasons why cabin fever is more prevalent among our senior loved ones.

One problem is the technology challenge faced by our elderly. While cellphones have been embraced by many elders, using one remains difficult for some others. Beyond basic phone calls, many elders have not mastered the use of FaceTime (on Apple devices), Zoom and the like for video connections with friends and family. Lack of face-to-face contact with others is a big problem, but with SIP directives most of us must do with virtual visits.

How to Use FaceTime

How to Join a Zoom Meeting

Streaming video by companies such as Netflix, Amazon and Disney+ is a way for many of us to be entertained while confined at home. However, for many seniors who are not technically savvy subscribing to, accessing and playing these videos is difficult (remember the days when so many people had trouble setting the clocks in their VCRs? – this is a bigger problem). Ditto for setting up and using a voice assistant like Alexa. Having a family member or caregiver who can help with the technology adoption (even from a remote location over the phone) is useful, but not all seniors have this advantage.

How to Set Up and Use Alexa

So – what can seniors and their loved ones do to minimize elder cabin fever? Here are a few suggestions.

Virtual Visitation

Make use of the telephone and available video chat applications to stay in touch with the important people in your life. Beyond just “catch up” visits, introduce some fun events that can be shared by people in different locations. Examples would be coffee times, cocktail hours and wine tastings, book reviews and recipe sharing. A great idea if you subscribe to Netflix is the recently introduced Netflix Party, an extension for the Chrome browser for watching Netflix remotely with friends, e.g., for movie nights with a long-distance special someone. Netflix Party synchronizes video playback and adds group chat.

Couples Isolated Together

Doing things with each other can help seniors (and all living-together couples)) alleviate the restlessness of cabin fever. My wife and I have instituted a weekly Date Night, where we dress up a bit and have cocktails and conversation followed by a nice dinner ordered for delivery from one of our local restaurants. Afterwards, popcorn and a TV movie. This represents a welcome romantic interlude during these stressful times. Cooking meals together is also fun – each person can suggest one of their favorite dishes (or a new one to try) and both people can put it together.

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

Since cabin fever is a form of mental stress, taking care of your body is very helpful. Things for seniors to remember to do are eat healthy meals, exercise to the best of their abilities and get a good night’s sleep.

The restrictions COVID-19 has placed on our daily activities are stressful for everyone, especially for our seniors. We can’t change, at this time, the boundaries imposed by SIP but both caregivers and elders have some ways of reducing the cabin fever aspects of our current lifestyles.

Stay safe and well!

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