What is Alzheimer’s Shadowing and How Can it Be Managed?

Primary caregivers for those with Alzheimer’s disease are frequently all too familiar with the complications experienced in trying to take a quiet moment or two alone – to use the restroom, get a brief shower, and sometimes even step into another room. Seniors with Alzheimer’s can experience increased fear when a loved one is out of sight – a condition known as Alzheimer’s shadowing. And the ensuing behaviors can be extremely hard to manage: crying, anger and meanness, or repeatedly asking where you are.

It helps to understand the reasoning behind dementia related shadowing. You are the older adult’s safe place, the main one who helps make sense of a confusing and disorienting world, and when you are absent, life can appear frightening and uncertain. And remember that shadowing is not brought on by what you have done, it is simply a natural aspect of the advancement of dementia.

Our dementia care team provides the following strategies to help:

  • Extend the senior’s circle of trust. Having a friend or two with you as you go through the older adult’s routines may help him/her start to trust an individual aside from yourself. Little-by-little, once that trust is in place, a senior loved one will become more at ease when you want to step away, knowing there’s still a lifeline readily available.
  • Record yourself. Make a video of yourself doing dishes or tending to other day-to-day chores, reading aloud, singing, etc. and try playing it for the older adult. This digital substitution may be all that’s needed to provide a sense of comfort while she or he is apart from you.
  • Make use of distractions. Finding a soothing activity for the senior to take part in may be enough of a distraction to permit you a brief period of respite. Try repetitive tasks, such as sorting silverware or nuts and bolts, filing papers, or folding napkins, or anything else that is safe and of interest to the senior.
  • Stay clear of conflict. Your senior loved one could become angry or combative as a way to express his/her fear of being alone. Regardless of what she or he may say, it’s vital that you keep from quarreling with or correcting your loved one. An appropriate response is always to validate the senior’s feelings (“I can see you are feeling upset,”) and refocus the conversation to a more pleasing topic (“Would you want to try a piece of the banana bread we made earlier?”)
  • Explain the separation period. Because the sense of time is usually lost in people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, telling a senior loved one you will just be away for a few minutes might not mean very much. Try using a common wind-up kitchen timer for brief separations. Set the timer for the amount of time you will be away and ask your loved one to hold onto it, explaining that when it rings, you will be back.

Engaging the services of a skilled dementia care provider who understands the nuances of dementia and can put into action creative techniques such as these may help restore peace to both you and the senior you love. As providers of home care in Portsmouth and the surrounding area, Seniorcorp’s dementia caregivers are fully trained and available to fill in whenever you need a helping hand. Give us a call at 757-640-0557 for a complimentary in-home consultation for additional information.