If you start noticing a person who’s living with dementia follow you around similar to a lost puppy, this is known as “shadowing.”
Shadowing is the act of a person with a dementia-related disease attempting to keep his or her care partner 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 would constantly follow me around like a small boy clinging to his mother’s dress.
Even if I left Dad with a respite caregiver for an hour or two, which was extremely rare, he would perpetually ask where I was, sometimes more than twenty times within a half hour. This could obviously drive the person staying with him almost to the point of madness. For him, this behavior usually began in the early afternoon, right about an hour or so before he began showing signs of “sundowner’s” (Sundown Syndrome).
When someone is cognitively impaired there often will be timesof profound sense of fear involved. Unfortunately, some people living with dementia can experience this all day long. As their disease progresses, they may finally get to a stage where they just don’t feel safe alone anymore, and the shadowing becomes even more excessive. As I have always repeatedly said, “Controlling their anxiety is half the battle of caring for them.”
Primary caregivers become security blankets, lifelines and the center of the world to their loved ones—who 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 your loved one redirected and entertained. Redirection may be the key. Consider asking them to help fold some laundry or work on a hobby they always used to enjoy, such as a jigsaw puzzle or playing Solitaire.
I may have regaled you with a favorite anecdote of mine, but 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? Redirection through taste will be one of the most powerful caregiving tools you have.
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. I mean, really?
Shadowing is just one of a myriad of symptoms that these folks who are diagnosed with a dementia-related disease may exhibit. For the care partner, it can definitely be one of the more unnerving ones.
Gary Joseph LeBlanc, CDCS
Director of Dementia Education
Dementia Spotlight Foundation