Primary caregivers for people with dementia are often all too familiar with the challenge of trying to take a calm moment or two alone – to get a quick shower, step into the other room, or even use the bathroom. Those diagnosed with dementia can experience heightened fear when a family member is out of sight – an issue known as shadowing. And the resulting behaviors are exceptionally tricky to manage: anger and meanness, repeatedly asking where you are, or crying. It is vital to learn what to do about dementia shadowing in order to ease a loved one’s fears as well as find space for yourself.
Why Does Shadowing Happen in Alzheimer’s?
It might help to understand the reasoning behind shadowing. You’re the person’s secure place, the one who helps to make sense of a perplexing and confusing world, and when you are absent, life can appear uncertain and frightening. And understand that shadowing is not due to anything you have done (or not done). It’s a common part of the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Our Alzheimer’s care team suggests using the following approaches to help:
- Increase the person’s support system. Having a friend or two with you while you go through the person’s routines can help the individual learn to trust people other than just you. Over time, once that trust is in place, the person will be calmer when you need to step away, knowing there is still support readily available.
- Avoid conflict. Your family member may become combative or angry in an effort to show their nervousness about being alone. No matter what they do or say, it is essential that you avoid quarreling with or correcting the person. An appropriate reaction is always to validate the person’s feelings (“I can see you’re feeling upset,”) and redirect the discussion to a much more calming topic (“Would you like to try a slice of the banana bread we made today?”)
- Make a recording of yourself. Make a short video of yourself taking care of chores like folding laundry, reading aloud, singing, etc. and play it for the person. This digital substitution might be all that is necessary to offer a feeling of comfort while they are apart from you.
- Help with understanding the separation period. Because the sense of time is frequently lost in people diagnosed with dementia, telling the person you will just be away for a few minutes might not mean very much. Try using a wind-up kitchen timer for quick separations. Set the timer for the amount of time you’ll be away and ask your loved one to hold onto it, explaining that when it goes off, you’ll be back.
- Provide distractions. Finding a comforting activity for the older adult to get involved in may be enough of a distraction to allow you a short period of respite. Try repetitive activities, such as sorting silverware or nuts and bolts, folding napkins, filing papers, or anything else that is safe and of interest to the person.
It’s also helpful to partner with a professional Alzheimer’s caregiver who understands the subtleties of dementia, like those at Live Free Home Health Care. We can implement creative strategies such as these to help restore peace for both you and the person you love. All of our caregivers are fully trained and here to fill in when you need a helping hand. Contact us at 603-217-0149 for more information about our award-winning home care services.