Primary caregivers for people with Alzheimer’s disease are frequently all too familiar with the difficulty experienced in trying to take a quiet minute or two alone – to use the bathroom, get a quick shower, or even just walk into another room. Those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s can experience enhanced fear when a loved one is out of sight – a condition known as shadowing. And without knowing effective strategies for handling shadowing, the resulting behaviors are exceedingly hard to manage: 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 are the person’s safe place, the one who helps to make sense of a disorienting and confusing world, and when you are absent, life can appear frightening and uncertain. And realize that shadowing is not caused by anything you have done (or not done). It is a typical part of the advancement of dementia.
Our dementia care team suggests trying the following techniques to help:
- Help provide a sense of 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 might not mean very much. Try using a standard wind-up kitchen timer for brief 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 dings, you will be back.
- Increase the person’s circle of trust. Having a friend or two with you as you go through the person’s routines might help the individual start to trust others besides just you. Little by little, once that trust is in place, the person will become more at ease when you want to step away, knowing there is still support readily available.
- Incorporate distractions. Finding a soothing activity for the person to take part in may be enough of a distraction to allow you a brief period of respite. Try repetitive tasks, like sorting silverware or nuts and bolts, folding napkins, filing papers, or anything else that is safe and of interest to the person.
- Avoid conflict. Your loved one could become angry or combative in an effort to express their anxiety about being alone. Regardless of what they do or say, it is essential that you try to avoid quarreling with or correcting the person. An appropriate response 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 one of the cookies we made this afternoon?”)
- Record yourself. Make a video of yourself folding laundry or tending to other routine chores, singing, reading aloud, etc. and try playing it for the individual. This digital substitution may be all that’s needed to provide a sense of comfort while they are separated from you.
It’s also helpful to engage the services of a skilled dementia caregiver who understands the nuances of the condition, like those at Inspired Home Care. We can implement creative strategies such as these to help restore peace for both you and the person you love. All of our care professionals are fully trained and here to fill in whenever you need a helping hand. Give us a call at 847-787-7572 or contact us online to learn more about our award-winning in-home care services.