Shadowing Behaviors and What They Really Mean for Seniors with Dementia

Granddaughter giving a surprise gift to grandmother

Learn what dementia shadowing entails and how to help.

Primary caregivers for a loved one with Alzheimer’s are typically acquainted with the difficulty experienced in trying to take a quiet minute or two alone – to use the bathroom, get a brief shower, or even walk into another room. Those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s can experience enhanced fear when a loved one is out of sight – which is known as shadowing behaviors. And these behaviors can be extremely challenging to manage: crying, anger and meanness, or repeatedly asking where you are.

It may help to understand the reasoning behind shadowing behaviors. You are the older adult’s safe place, the one who makes sense of a confusing and disorienting world, and when you are away, life can feel uncertain and frightening. And know that shadowing isn’t brought on by what you have done, but is simply a typical aspect of the advancement of Alzheimer’s.

Our dementia care team provides the following techniques to help:

  • Grow the senior’s circle of trust. Having another person or two with you while you go through the senior’s routines will help him/her start to trust someone other than yourself. Slowly but surely, once that trust is in place, the senior 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 folding laundry or taking care of other day-to-day chores, singing, reading aloud, etc. and try playing it for the older adult. This digital substitution could be all that’s needed to provide a feeling of comfort while she or he is separated from you.
  • Utilize distractions. Finding a soothing activity for the senior to take part in may be enough of a distraction to allow you a brief time period of respite. Try repetitive tasks, for example, sorting nuts and bolts or silverware, folding napkins, filing papers, or anything else that is safe and of interest to your senior loved one.
  • Prevent conflict. The senior could become combative or angry in an effort to express his or her concern about being alone. No matter what he or she may say, it is imperative that you try to avoid quarreling with or correcting your loved one. An appropriate response is 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 usually lost in those diagnosed with dementia, telling a senior loved one you’ll just be away for one minute may 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 the senior to hold onto it, explaining that when it dings, you’ll be back.

Engaging the services of a highly trained dementia caregiver who knows the nuances of dementia and can put into practice creative strategies such as these can help restore peace to both you and the senior you love. Dementia and Alzheimer’s care services professionals at CareWorks Health Services are fully trained and available to fill in whenever you need a helping hand. Contact us at (949) 859-4700 for a complimentary in-home consultation or for more information about our specialized dementia caregivers throughout Orange County.