Primary caregivers for people with dementia are frequently all too familiar with the challenge of trying to grab a 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 heightened fear when a caregiver is out of sight – a condition known as Alzheimer’s shadowing. And the resulting behaviors are particularly hard to manage: anger, repeatedly asking where you are, crying, or meanness.
Why Does Shadowing Occur in Alzheimer’s?
It might 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 away, life can appear frightening and uncertain. And understand that shadowing is not due to anything you have done (or not done). It’s a normal part of the advancement of Alzheimer’s disease.
Our Alzheimer’s care team suggests using the following approaches to help:
- Increase the person’s circle of trust. Having another family member or a friend or two with you as you go through the person’s routines can help the individual start to trust people other than just you. Over time, once that trust is established, the person will be much more relaxed when you need to step away, knowing there is still support readily available.
- Help provide a sense of time. Because the sense of time is usually lost in people with Alzheimer’s, telling the individual you will just be away for a few minutes will most likely not mean very much. Try using a wind-up kitchen timer for quick separations. Set the timer for the length of time you will be away and ask your loved one to hold onto it, explaining that when it goes off, you will be back.
- Provide distractions. Finding a soothing activity for the person to get involved in might be enough of a distraction to allow you a short period of respite. Try repetitive tasks, such as sorting silverware or nuts and bolts, filing papers, folding napkins, or anything else that is safe and of interest to the person.
- Refrain from conflict. Your family member could become angry or combative in an attempt to communicate their fear about being alone. Regardless of what they do or say, it’s important to avoid arguing with or correcting the person. An appropriate reaction is always to validate the person’s feelings (“I can see you feel upset,”) and redirect the conversation to a more calming topic (“Would you like to try a piece of the cake we made today?”)
- Make a recording of yourself. Make a video of yourself taking care of chores like folding laundry, reading aloud, singing, etc. and try playing it for the individual. This digital substitution might be all that’s necessary to provide a sense of comfort when they are separated from you.
It is also helpful to partner with an experienced dementia caregiver who understands the subtleties of the condition, like those at Abby Senior Care. We can implement creative strategies like 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 if you need a helping hand. Call us at 303-699-8840 or contact us online for more information about our in-home care services.