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What is Shadowing? Can You Minimize It?

What is Shadowing? Can You Minimize It?

Do you have a mom or dad with dementia who feels the need to keep you in their line of sight at all times? Do they follow you around the house?

This is a common phenomenon referred to as “shadowing”.

Angela Lunde, a Mayo Clinic expert on Alzheimer’s Disease, describes shadowing as “when the person with dementia attempts to keep his or her caregiver in their sight at all times, following them like a small child would his or her parent. Shadowing can have the Alzheimer’s caregiver feeling smothered and their personal space feeling violated.”

It is the last part of Ms. Lunde’s description that often contributes to caregiver anxiety, depression and burn-out.

How to tackle that anxiety? It helps to gain a better understanding as to why your loved one is shadowing you. The underlying cause of shadowing is fear. Many individuals struggling with dementia live in a constant state of fear --- fear of forgetting, fear of getting lost, fear of strangers and basically fear of anything unfamiliar to them. Imagine this out-of-proportion fear engulfing your mom or dad and you can begin to understand why they cling to you. You are their “safe haven” in a very scary world they feel they have no control over.

What to do? Fortunately, along with our better understanding of dementia, solutions to behavior such as shadowing are emerging. Here are five things you can do to create an environment that minimizes the need for shadowing:

  1. Devise your own reassuring “mantra”. Create a sequence of phrases that have a calming effect on your loved one. You might try, “I’m glad you’re here. You are safe here. Everything is okay.” By repeating this phrase slowly in a gentle, calm voice you are helping them stay connected to that safe haven. And you might be surprised at how much this “mantra” helps you stay calm as well!
  2. Give your loved one a task to do. Have them fold towels or sort silverware or perform any easy but useful task. It will keep their attention focused on the task, not on you.
  3. Play a video of a familiar movie or family video. Make sure it is one they have seen and enjoyed many times before. Familiar images and sounds will have a calming effect on them.
  4. Create your own audio recording. This can be your own voice telling a familiar story, or reading sections of a book. Or, it could be a short sequence of their favorite songs. Be sure to place the recorder close by so that they don’t have to strain to hear it.
  5. Provide a clock with a timer. If you need to leave the room for more than a couple minutes, give your loved one a egg timer or clock with a timer so that they can focus on the time passing, a reassurance that you will soon return. Specially designed clocks, such as Time-Timers, make it easy to see how much time is left. Just make sure you put enough time on the timer to allow you to accomplish your task!

Above all, make sure you repeat your calming mantra before you leave the room. Set your timer and give them an activity to keep them focused while you are gone. If you do this consistently you and your loved one will be rewarded by a calmer, more tranquil environment and an easier, more pleasant co-existence with one another.