Primary caregivers for individuals with dementia are often all too acquainted with the challenge of trying to grab a moment or two alone – to get a quick shower, step into the other room, or even use the bathroom. Those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s can experience increased fear when a family member is out of sight – a condition known as shadowing. And the resulting behaviors make it hard to know how to cope with shadowing: crying, anger and meanness, or repeatedly asking where you are.

Why Does Shadowing Occur in Alzheimer’s?

It may help to understand the reasoning behind shadowing. You’re the person’s safe place, the one who helps to make sense of a perplexing and confusing world, so when you are away, life can feel frightening and uncertain. And know that shadowing is not brought on by anything you have done (or not done). It is a normal part of the advancement of dementia.

If you’re wondering how to cope with shadowing, our Alzheimer’s caregivers suggest using the following approaches to help:

  1. Offer distractions. Finding a comforting activity for the person to engage in may 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.
  2. Increase the person’s circle of trust. Having a good friend or two with you while you go through the person’s routines can help them begin to trust individuals other than just you. Little by little, once that trust is established, the person will be more relaxed when you want to step away, knowing there is still support readily available.
  3. Record yourself. Make a short video of yourself folding laundry or tending to other routine chores, singing, reading aloud, etc. and try playing it for your loved one. This digital alternative may be all that is necessary to provide a feeling of comfort when they are separated from you.
  4. Help establish a sense of time. Because the sense of time is often lost in people diagnosed with dementia, telling the individual you will just be away for a few minutes may not mean very much. Try using a basic wind-up kitchen timer for quick 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’ll be back.
  5. Refrain from conflict. Your family member could become angry or combative in an attempt to communicate their anxiety about being alone. Regardless of what they do or say, it’s critical to avoid quarreling with or correcting the individual. An appropriate reaction is always to validate the person’s feelings (“I can see you are feeling upset,”) and redirect the conversation to a more calming topic (“Would you like to try a piece of the pie we made today?”)

When struggling with how to cope with shadowing, it’s also helpful to engage the services of a skilled dementia caregiver who understands the nuances of the condition, like those at Anthem Home Care. We are able to implement creative strategies such as these to help restore peace to both you and the senior you love. All of our care professionals 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 361-643-2323 or contact us online to find out more.