LeBlanc: The act of shadowing

Have you ever had a loved one with dementia follow you around like a lost puppy? This is called “shadowing.”

Shadowing is the act of an Alzheimer’s or dementia patient attempting to keep his or her caregiver in sight at all times.

When caring for my father, there were times when I didn’t even have to turn around; I could feel the warmth of his breath heating up the back of my neck! He constantly would follow me around like a small boy clinging to his mother’s dress.

Even if I left him with a respite caregiver for an hour or two, he perpetually would ask where I was, sometimes more than 20 times in a half-hour. This obviously could drive the person staying with him almost to the point of madness. The behavior usually began about an hour or so before he began showing signs of “Sundowner’s” (Sundown Syndrome).

When someone is cognitively impaired there is a profound sense of fear involved. People living with dementia can experience this all day long. When they finally get to a stage where they just don’t feel safe alone anymore, the shadowing becomes even more excessive. I’ve always said controlling their anxiety is half the battle of caring for them.

Primary caregivers become security blankets, lifelines and the center of their loved ones’ world. They never want to be alone. This is how it was with my dad. He would follow me everywhere, and I do mean everywhere – bathrooms included! It got to the point that when I went into the john, within seconds my father would be knocking on the door asking what I was doing in there. To be honest, there were times when I was just in there searching for a moment of peace and solitude.

If this should happen to you, try to recognize what time of day it occurs the most. This will give you a notion of when to find a repetitious activity that will keep them entertained. Redirection might be the key. Consider asking them to help fold laundry or work on a hobby they always used to enjoy, such as a jigsaw puzzle or playing solitaire.

With my dad, one of the best redirection tools I used was a bowl of ice cream. Many times I found myself asking “Are you sure you don’t want another bowl?”

Also, I can’t tell you how many times I woke up to find my dad just staring at me, watching me sleep or actually waking me up just to ask if I was sleeping.

Shadowing is just one of a myriad of symptoms Alzheimer’s victims exhibit, but for the caregiver it definitely can be one of the more unnerving ones.

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