Primary caregivers for a person with dementia are usually all too familiar with the challenge of trying to take a peaceful moment or two alone – to get a quick shower, step into the other room, or even use the bathroom. Those diagnosed with dementia can suffer from enhanced fear when a family caregiver is out of sight – a condition known as dementia shadowing. And the resulting behaviors are very tricky to manage: anger and meanness, repeatedly asking where you are, or crying.
Why Does Dementia Shadowing Occur?
It might help to know the reasoning behind dementia shadowing. You are the person’s safe place, the one who helps to make sense of a disorienting and confusing world, so when you are absent, life can appear unsure and scary. And understand that shadowing is not a result of anything you have done (or not done). It’s a normal aspect of the development of the disease.
Our dementia caregivers suggest using the following techniques to help:
- Avoid conflict. Your loved one may become combative or angry in an effort to communicate their fear about being alone. Whatever they do or say, it’s critical to resist quarreling with or correcting the person. An appropriate reaction is always to validate the person’s feelings (“I can see you are feeling upset,”) and redirect the discussion to a more calming topic (“Would you like to try a slice of the banana bread we made this afternoon?”)
- Record yourself. Make a video of yourself taking care of chores such as folding laundry, reading aloud, singing, etc. and try playing it for your loved one. This digital replacement could be all that’s needed to provide a feeling of comfort when they are separated from you.
- Increase the person’s circle of trust. Having another family member or a friend or two with you while you go through the person’s routines can help the individual start to trust others besides just you. Little by little, once that trust is established, the person will be more comfortable when you need to step away, knowing there is still support that is readily available.
- Help provide a sense of time. Because the sense of time is frequently lost in people with Alzheimer’s, telling the person you will just be away for a few minutes may not mean very much. Try using a basic wind-up kitchen timer for quick 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 dings, you will be back.
- Incorporate distractions. Finding a comforting activity for the person to take part in could be enough of a diversion to allow you a brief period of respite. Try repetitive activities, like sorting silverware or nuts and bolts, filing papers, folding napkins, or anything else that is safe and of interest to the older adult.
It is also helpful to engage the services of a professional Alzheimer’s caregiver who understands the subtleties of the disease, like those at Home With You 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 410-756-0959 or contact us online to find out more about our award-winning home care services.