Shadowing and Dementia: How to Help Overcome the Fear of Being Alone
Primary caregivers for those with Alzheimer's disease in many cases are all too acquainted with the difficulty experienced in trying to take a quiet moment or two alone – to use the restroom, get a brief shower, and even walk into another room. Shadowing and dementia sometimes go hand in hand, and shadowing usually takes the form of enhanced fear when a member of the family is out of sight. And the ensuing behaviors are extremely challenging to manage: crying, anger and meanness, or continuously asking where you are.
It helps to understand the reasoning behind the connection between shadowing and dementia. You are the senior’s safe place, the one who helps make sense of a disorienting and confusing world, and when you are absent, life can appear frightening and uncertain. And know that shadowing isn’t caused by anything you have done; it is merely a natural aspect of the progression of Alzheimer's.
Extend the senior’s circle of trust. Having another individual or two with you while you go through the senior’s daily routines will help him/her start to trust an individual apart from yourself. Little-by-little, once that trust is in place, the senior will be more at ease when you need to step away, knowing there is still a lifeline available.
Record yourself. Make a video of yourself folding laundry or taking care of 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 apart from you.
Utilize distractions. Finding a soothing activity for the older adult to take part in could be enough of a distraction to allow you a brief period of respite. 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 loved one.
Avoid conflict. The senior could become angry or combative in an effort to express his or her concern with being alone. No matter what she or he may say, it is crucial that you keep from quarreling with or correcting your loved one. An appropriate response is always to validate the person’s feelings (“I can see you are feeling upset,”) and redirect the conversation to a more soothing topic (“Would you want to try a piece of the bread we made earlier today?”)
Clarify the separation period. Because the sense of time is often lost in individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer's, telling them you’ll just be away for one 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 the senior to hold onto it, explaining that when it dings, you’ll be back.