Dementia and a Fear of Being Alone: How to Help Overcome Shadowing

family caregiver smiling with senior loved one
A common fear in dementia is being alone.

Primary caregivers for anyone with Alzheimer’s disease are frequently all too acquainted with the complications 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. Dementia and fear often go hand in hand, and one particular fear can occur when a primary caregiver is out of sight – a condition known as shadowing. The ensuing behaviors are exceedingly hard to manage: crying, meanness and anger, or continuously asking where you are.

It helps to understand the reasoning behind shadowing. You are the senior’s safe place, the one who tends to make sense of a disorienting and confusing world, so when you are absent, life can seem frightening and uncertain. And realize that shadowing isn’t caused by anything you have done, but is simply a natural part of the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Our dementia care team provides the following strategies that can help:

  1. Extend the senior’s circle of trust. Having another person or two with you as you go through the older adult’s daily routines might help him/her begin to trust an individual apart from yourself. Slowly but surely, once that trust is in place, the senior will be a little more at ease when you need to step away, knowing there is still a lifeline available.
  2. Record yourself. Make a video of yourself doing laundry or tending to other day-to-day chores, singing, reading aloud, 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.
  3. Incorporate distractions. Finding a soothing activity for the older adult to engage in may be enough of a distraction to permit you a brief time period of respite. Try repetitive tasks, such assorting nuts and bolts or silverware, filing papers, or folding napkins, or anything else that is safe and of interest to your loved one.
  4. Avoid conflict. Your senior loved one could become angry or combative in an effort to express his or her concern about being alone. No matter what she or he may say, it is vital that you try to avoid quarreling with or correcting the senior. An appropriate response is to validate the person’s feelings (“I can see you are feeling upset,”) and refocus the conversation to a far more pleasant topic (“Would you like to try a piece of the banana bread we made this afternoon?”)
  5. Clarify the separation period. Because the sense of time is frequently lost in people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, telling the senior you’ll just be away for a moment 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 will be away and ask the senior to hold onto it, explaining that when it rings, you will be back.

Hiring the services of a skilled dementia caregiver who knows the nuances of dementia and can put into action creative techniques such as these may help restore peace to both you and the senior you love. The Kalamazoo, MI dementia care professionals at Home Sweet Home In-Home Care (also serving surrounding areas) are fully trained and available to fill in whenever you need a helping hand. Call Home Sweet Home at (866) 229-2505 for a free in-home assessment to get started.

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