Primary caregivers for those with Alzheimer’s disease are often all too familiar with the challenge of trying to find a quiet 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 enhanced fear when a loved one is out of sight – a condition known as dementia shadowing behavior. This manifests in some very challenging behaviors: crying, anger and meanness, or repeatedly asking where you are.
Why Does Shadowing Occur in Alzheimer’s?
It may help to know the reasoning behind shadowing. You’re the person’s safe place, the one who helps to make sense of a disorienting and confusing world, so when you are absent, life can seem uncertain and frightening. And know that shadowing is not brought on by anything you have done (or not done). It is a common part of the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Our dementia care team suggests using the following techniques to help:
- Increase the older adult’s support system. Having a friend or two with you as you go through the person’s routines can help the individual start to trust others besides just you. Little by little, once that trust is established, the person will be more comfortable when you need to step away, knowing there is still a support readily available.
- Avoid conflict. The individual may become combative or angry in an attempt to express their nervousness about being alone. No matter what they do or say, it is vital to avoid arguing with or correcting the person. An appropriate response is to validate the person’s feelings (“I can see you feel upset,”) and redirect the discussion to a more calming topic (“Would you like to try a piece of the pie we made this afternoon?”)
- Make it easier to track time. 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 may not mean very much. Try using a standard wind-up kitchen timer for short separations. Set the timer for the length of time you’ll be away and ask the person to hold onto it, explaining that when it goes off, you will be back.
- Provide distractions. Finding a comforting activity for the person to take part in might be enough of a diversion to allow you a brief period of respite. Try repetitive activities, such as sorting silverware or nuts and bolts, filing papers, folding napkins, or anything else that is safe and of interest to the person.
- Make a recording of yourself. Make a short video of yourself taking care of chores like folding laundry, singing, reading aloud, etc. and try playing it for the individual. This digital alternative could be all that is needed to give them a feeling of comfort while they are apart from you.
It is also helpful to partner with an experienced dementia caregiver who understands the nuances of the condition, like those at At-Home Care Company. We can implement creative strategies like 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 whenever you need a helping hand. Contact us at 515-292-2650 to find out more about our award-winning in-home care services.