Primary caregivers for someone with Alzheimer’s disease are frequently all too familiar with the difficulty experienced in trying to take a quiet minute or two alone – to use the restroom, get a quick shower, or even step into another room. Dementia and a fear of being alone often go hand in hand, and those diagnosed with dementia can experience increased fear when a family member is out of sight – a condition known as shadowing. And the resulting behaviors can be extremely hard to manage: crying, meanness and anger, or repeatedly asking where you are.
It may help to understand the reasoning behind shadowing. You are the senior’s safe place, the one who helps make sense of a disorienting and confusing world, and when you’re absent, life can seem frightening and uncertain. And recognize that shadowing isn’t brought on by what you have done, but is merely a typical aspect of the advancement of Alzheimer’s.
Our dementia care team provides the following strategies to help:
- Extend the older adult’s circle of trust. Having another person or two with you as you go through the older adult’s daily routines will help him/her start to trust someone other than yourself. Slowly but surely, once that trust is in place, the senior may become more at ease when you need to step away, knowing there is still a lifeline readily available.
- Record yourself. Make a video of yourself doing dishes or taking care of other day-to-day chores, reading aloud, singing, etc. and try playing it for the older adult. This digital substitution may be all that’s needed to provide a sense of comfort while she or he is separated from you.
- Incorporate distractions. Finding a soothing activity for the older adult to engage in could be enough of a distraction to permit you a short 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 senior loved one.
- Refrain from conflict. Your senior loved one could become combative or angry in an effort to express his/her concern with being alone. Regardless of what he or she may say, it is important that you refrain from quarreling with or correcting the senior. An appropriate response is to validate the senior’s feelings (“I can see you’re feeling upset,”) and refocus the conversation to a much more pleasant topic (“Would you want to try a piece of the banana bread we made earlier today?”)
- Clarify the separation period. Because the sense of time is frequently lost in those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, telling a senior loved one you will just be away for a moment may 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 rings, you’ll be back.
Engage the services of a highly trained dementia agency caregiver who comprehends the nuances of dementia and can implement creative strategies such as these to help restore peace to both you and the senior you love. The dementia caregivers at JFS Care, the leading Santa Monica home care agency, are fully trained and available to fill in whenever you need a helping hand. Call us at 213-383-2273 for a complimentary in-home assessment to learn more. See our full California service area.