How to handle shadowing in those with dementia

How to handle shadowing in those with dementia

Shadowing is a form of behaviour in which a person with dementia will follow their caregiver around everywhere, never letting them out of sight for a moment. It’s similar to how a child will follow a parent around everywhere, and though it may seem trivial compared to some of the other challenges dementia can present, it’s essential to understand the behaviour and why it occurs. Only then can shadowing be handled correctly.

Why does shadowing occur?

The first thing to understand is that shadowing occurs during mid-late stage dementia. The exact time varies, but normally at this point, their memory worsens. The world around them is unfamiliar and frightening, and there are very few consistent things that they can rely on.

Subsequently, a carer becomes the ‘protector’ in their life. The person looking after them is keeping them safe in the dark, confusing place that their world has become, and they feel safe and secure when that person is around. Shadowing is driven by fear and anxiety and specifically, a desire to get away from these emotions. As the primary caregiver, you have to remember that when they can see you, they feel safe, but as soon as you move out of sight, they can feel anxious or scared again.

How shadowing affects the caregiver

The biggest issue with shadowing is the wellbeing of the caregiver. It’s a behaviour that can often feel smothering, as it tends to deny the caregiver of personal space and lead to carers trying to separate themselves from the patient. This then leads to them feeling anxious due to the separation, and as a result attempting to shadow even more.

Shadowing will often create increased demands on the carers time, leaving them little space to do anything else, and again leading to attempts to separate.

Ways to manage shadowing

There are several ways of dealing with shadowing, but they must be done delicately. As trying to distance yourself won’t work, there must be an attempt to address the negative emotions that they are feeling, and solutions that help to alleviate them.

Here are a few things you can do:

  • Use a timer – much of the fear of dementia comes from the uncertainty of not knowing when or if you will return. Use a timer to measure out your free time and say that when it runs out, you will be back. Doing this can remove some of that uncertainty.
  • Find things to do – engaging and meaningful tasks can help to take their mind off the anxiety and forget the world around them for a while. You can use this moment to take a breather.
  • Hire a live-in carer – our care workers are trained in dealing with shadowing appropriately, and they can be with them for extended periods.
  • Stick to a routine – anxiety comes from uncertainty, and having a set routine for the day brings structure and order as well as things to look forward to. Just make sure that it’s adhered to if you do decide to use one.
  • Use reassuring language – remember that they are scared of things that you would otherwise find normal. Using set phrases like “you’re safe here” and “I’m here for you” can help to calm them down.

Contact the dementia care experts for help with shadowing

At Better Healthcare, we have many years of experience dealing with the different types of behaviour dementia can create. Our live-in care and home care services can provide an affordable solution if you need the extra help.

To find out more get in touch on 0800 668 1234 or contact your local office.