Primary caregivers for a person with Alzheimer’s disease are likely all too familiar with the challenge of trying to take a quiet moment or two alone – to get a quick shower, step into the other room, or even use the bathroom. Those with dementia can have enhanced concern when a caregiver is out of sight – a condition known as shadowing in Alzheimer’s. And the resulting behaviors are exceptionally challenging to manage: crying, anger and meanness, or repeatedly asking where you are.
Why Does Shadowing in Alzheimer’s Occur?
It may help to understand the reasoning behind shadowing. You are the person’s secure place, the one who helps to make sense of a confusing and disorienting world, so when you are not there, life can seem uncertain and frightening. And understand that shadowing is not due to anything you have done (or not done). It is a typical part of the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Our dementia caregivers suggest using the following techniques to help:
- Avoid conflict. The older adult may become angry or combative in an attempt to communicate their anxiety about being alone. Regardless of what they do or say, it’s important that you avoid arguing with or correcting the person. An appropriate reaction is to validate a loved one’s feelings (“I can see you’re feeling upset,”) and redirect the discussion to a much more calming topic (“Would you like to try a slice of the cake we made this afternoon?”)
- Help with tracking time. Because the sense of time is often lost in people diagnosed with dementia, telling the person you will just be away for a few minutes will most likely not mean very much. Try using a standard wind-up kitchen timer for short separations. Set the timer for the amount of time you’ll be out of sight and ask your loved one to hold onto it, explaining that when it dings, you will be back.
- Provide distractions. Finding a calming activity for the older adult to take part in can be enough of a diversion to allow you a brief period of respite. Try repetitive tasks, such as sorting nuts and bolts or silverware, folding napkins, filing papers, or anything else that is safe and of interest to the older adult.
- Increase the person’s circle of trust. Having a friend or two with you as you go through the person’s routines can help them learn to trust people other than just you. Over time, once that trust is in place, the person will become calmer when you need to step away, knowing there is still a lifeline readily available.
- Record yourself. Make a short video of yourself taking care of chores like folding laundry, reading aloud, singing, etc. and try playing it for your loved one. This digital substitution could be all that’s needed to give them a sense of comfort when they are away from you.
It’s also helpful to engage the services of a professional Alzheimer’s caregiver who understands the nuances of dementia, like those at Compassionate Nursing Services. 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 when you need a helping hand. Call us at 314-432-4312 or contact us online to learn more about our award-winning in-home care services.