Understanding Dementia Shadowing and How to Overcome It


Granddaughter giving a surprise gift to grandmother
Respite care helps many families enjoy quality time together by providing needed relief and reducing caregiver burnout.

Primary caregivers of those living with dementia are frequently far too acquainted with the difficulty of trying to find a quiet minute or two alone – to use the bathroom, get a quick shower, and even walk into another room. Seniors with Alzheimer’s can experience heightened fear when a loved one is out of sight – a condition known as dementia shadowing. And the ensuing behaviors are extremely hard to manage: crying, anger and meanness, or repeatedly asking where you are.

It may help to understand the reasons behind shadowing in dementia. You are the senior’s safe zone, the one who tends to make sense of a confusing and disorienting world, and when you’re away, life can seem frightening and uncertain. And keep in mind that dementia shadowing is not a result of anything you have done, it is merely a natural part of the advancement of Alzheimer’s.

The dementia care team at Sage Home Care provides the following techniques that may help:

  • Grow the older adult’s circle of trust. Having another individual or two with you while you go through the senior’s routines may help him/her start to trust someone aside from yourself. Gradually, once that trust is in place, the senior will be a little more at ease when you need to step away, knowing there’s still a lifeline readily available.
  • Record yourself. Make a video of yourself folding laundry or tending to other day-to-day chores, reading aloud, singing, etc. and try playing it for the senior. This digital substitution might be all that’s needed to provide a sense of comfort while he or she is separated from you.
  • Incorporate distractions. Finding a soothing activity for the senior to take part in might be enough of a distraction to allow you a brief period of respite time. Try repetitive tasks, such as sorting silverware or nuts and bolts, folding napkins, filing papers, or anything else that is safe and of interest to your senior loved one.
  • Refrain from conflict. Your senior loved one could become angry or combative as a way to express his or her concern with being alone. No matter what he or she may say, it is important that you refrain from quarreling with or correcting the senior loved one. An appropriate response is to validate the person’s feelings (“I can see you’re feeling upset,”) and refocus the conversation to a far more soothing topic (“Would you want to try a piece of the cake we made earlier today?”)
  • Clarify the separation period. Because the sense of time is generally lost in people who have Alzheimer’s, telling the senior you will just be away for a minute might not mean very much. Try using a standard wind-up kitchen timer for brief separations. Set the timer for the amount of time you’ll be away and ask your loved one to hold onto it, explaining that when it dings, you will be back.

Engaging a skilled dementia care provider who understands the nuances of dementia and puts into action creative techniques such as these can help restore peace to both you and your loved one. The dementia care professionals at Sage Home Care, providers of home care in Katonah and the surrounding areas, are fully trained and available to step in whenever you need a helping hand. Give us a call at (800) 578-4554 to schedule a free in-home consultation or to learn more about our Katonah memory care and the other communities we serve.

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