Primary caregivers for those with Alzheimer’s disease are usually all too familiar with the challenge of trying to take a peaceful 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 increased fear when a loved one is out of sight – a condition known as shadowing. And the resulting behaviors are very tricky to manage: anger and meanness, repeatedly asking where you are, or crying. The big question is, what is Alzheimer’s shadowing and how can family caregivers help a loved one through this challenging behavior?
Why Does Shadowing Occur in Alzheimer’s?
It might help to understand the reasoning behind shadowing. You are the person’s security, the one who helps to make sense of a perplexing and confusing world, so when you’re not there, life can seem uncertain and scary. And understand that shadowing is not a result of anything you have done (or not done). It is a normal aspect of the progression of the disease.
Our dementia caregivers suggest trying the following strategies to help:
- Provide distractions. Finding a comforting activity for the older adult to engage in might be enough of a distraction to allow you a brief period of respite. Try repetitive activities, like sorting nuts and bolts or silverware, filing papers, folding napkins, or anything else that is safe and of interest to the older adult.
- Provide a sense of time for the separation period. Because the sense of time is usually lost in people with Alzheimer’s, telling the person you will just be away for a few minutes might 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 your loved one to hold onto it, explaining that when it goes off, you will be back.
- Increase the older adult’s support system. Having another family member or a friend or two with you as you go through the person’s routines might help the individual learn to trust people other than just you. Little by little, once that trust is built, the person will be calmer when you need to step away, knowing there is still support that is easily obtainable.
- Make a recording of yourself. Make a video of yourself taking care of chores like folding laundry, singing, reading aloud, etc. and try playing it for the senior. This digital replacement might be all that’s necessary to offer a feeling of comfort when they are away from you.
- Refrain from conflict. A loved one may become combative or angry in an effort to communicate their fear about being alone. Whatever they do or say, it’s important to avoid quarreling with or correcting the individual. An appropriate response is to validate the person’s feelings (“I can see you are feeling upset,”) and redirect the discussion to a more calming topic (“Would you like to try a slice of the pie we made this afternoon?”)
It is also helpful to partner with an experienced Alzheimer’s caregiver who understands the nuances of dementia, like those at Absolute Companion 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 whenever you need a helping hand. To learn more about our award-winning home care services, give us a call at 410-357-9640 or contact us online to learn more.