January 8, 2021

Granddaughter giving a surprise gift to grandmother

Learn tips to handle shadowing behaviors in dementia patients.

Primary caregivers for those with Alzheimer’s may be all too familiar with the difficulty experienced in trying to take a quiet minute or two alone – to use the bathroom, get a brief shower, and even walk into another room. Shadowing behaviors in dementia patients usually take the form of increased fear when a loved one is out of sight. And the ensuing behaviors are extremely difficult to manage: crying, meanness and anger, or repeatedly asking where you are.

It may help to understand the reasoning behind shadowing behaviors in dementia patients. You are the senior’s safe place, the one who tends to make sense of a disorienting and confusing world, and when you are absent, life can feel uncertain and frightening. And keep in mind that shadowing is not brought on by what you have done, but is merely a typical aspect of the development of dementia.

Continuum, providing professional eldercare help at home in the St. Louis area, has the following strategies that may help:

  • Expand the older adult’s circle of trust. Having a friend or two with you while you go through the older adult’s routines will help him/her start to trust someone aside from yourself. Slowly but surely, once that trust is in place, the senior will be 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 weekly chores, singing, reading aloud, etc. and try playing it for the older adult. This digital substitution might be all that’s needed to provide a feeling of comfort while he or she is apart from you.
  • Make use of distractions. Finding a soothing activity for the senior to engage in might be enough of a distraction to allow you a brief period of respite. Try repetitive tasks, such as sorting silverware or nuts and bolts, filing papers, folding napkins, or anything else that is safe and of interest to your loved one.
  • Avoid conflict. Your loved one could become angry or combative as a way to express his or her concern about being alone. No matter what he or she may say, it is crucial that you keep from arguing with or correcting your loved one. An appropriate response is always to validate the senior’s feelings (“I can see you’re feeling upset,”) and redirect the conversation to a much more pleasant topic (“Would you like to try a piece of the bread we made this afternoon?”)
  • Clarify the separation period. Because the sense of time is usually lost in individuals diagnosed with dementia, telling the senior you will just be away for a moment 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’ll be away and ask your senior loved one to hold onto it, explaining that when it rings, you’ll be back.

Engaging the services of a highly skilled dementia home care provider who knows the nuances of dementia and can put into practice creative techniques such as these may help restore peace to both you and the senior you love. The St Louis home care team at Continuum is available to fill in whenever you need a helping hand. Contact us at (314) 863-9912 for a free in-home assessment or explore our service area around St. Louis to find out more.