Primary caregivers for people with dementia are often all too familiar with the challenge of trying to take a quiet minute or two alone – to get a quick shower, step into the other room, or even use the bathroom. That’s because Alzheimer’s and fear of being alone often go hand-in-hand. Those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease can have heightened concern when a caregiver is out of sight – a condition known as shadowing. And the resulting behaviors can be exceptionally difficult to manage: crying, anger and meanness, or repeatedly asking where you are.
Why Does Shadowing Occur in Alzheimer’s?
It might help to first understand the reasoning behind shadowing. You’re the person’s safe place, the one who helps to make sense of a disorienting and confusing world, so when you’re not there, life can appear uncertain and frightening. And recognize that shadowing is not a result of anything you have done (or not done). It’s a normal part of the development of the disease.
Our dementia care team suggests using the following approaches to help:
- Refrain from conflict. Your family member may become angry or combative in an attempt to show their nervousness about being alone. Whatever they do or say, it is crucial to avoid quarreling with or correcting the person. An appropriate response is 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 slice of the banana bread we made today?”)
- Provide distractions. Finding a calming activity for the person to engage in could be enough of a distraction to allow you a short period of respite. Try repetitive tasks, such as sorting nuts and bolts or silverware, filing papers, folding napkins, or anything else that is safe and of interest to the individual.
- Provide a way to track time. Because the sense of time is frequently lost in people diagnosed with dementia, telling the individual you will just be away for a few minutes might not mean very much. Try using a standard wind-up kitchen timer for quick separations. Set the timer for the length of time you’ll be away and ask the person to hold onto it, explaining that when it goes off, you will be back.
- Increase the person’s support system. Having 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 secure, the person may be calmer when you need to step away, knowing there is still a lifeline easily available.
- 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 person. This digital substitution may be all that’s necessary to give them a sense of comfort when they are separated from you.
It is also helpful to engage the services of a professional dementia caregiver who understands the nuances of the condition, like those at Hearts at Home In-Home Care. We can implement creative strategies like 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. Call us at 913-440-4209 or contact us online for more information about our award-winning home care services.