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The 3 Main Causes of Shadowing in Dementia Patients

Shadowing is a term heard frequently in the memory care community for when a senior citizen displays clingy behavior to a loved one or caretaker. For the person being shadowed, this behavior can be disruptive or annoying, leading to irritation toward the individual. Shadowing is often described as following a caretaker around the house or room, and can sometimes include mimicking actions or parroting questions and comments. 

There are many reasons your loved one may be shadowing you, but the three main causes are as follows:

  1. Anxiety and Confusion

More often than not, shadowing stems from anxiety or confusion. They may see their caretaker as a safe or comforting figure. Following you around may give them a sense of security and safety that they don’t feel on their own. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can leave individuals feeling disoriented and fearful, so shadowing may provide a sense of focus and reassurance when they’re feeling particularly unmoored.

It’s important to note when an individual becomes agitated at the absence of their caretaker because that may lead them to wander around or leave the home, which can be very dangerous.

  1. Sundowning

If you notice that your loved one’s shadowing behavior increases at the end of the day, it may actually be a symptom of sundowning. Sundowning is a behavioral and cognitive reaction elderly individuals can experience as the sun goes down at the end of the day. Symptoms of sundowning can range from mild confusion and irritation, all the way to sudden onset fear, depression, paranoia, anger, or anxiety.

Learn more about sundowning in our recent blog The Effects of Sundowning in the Wake of Daylight Savings.

  1. Seeking a Sense of Purpose

Shadowing is often an attempt to replicate old routines that an individual can no longer complete on their own. When caretakers step in and take over daily tasks that your loved one is used to doing, feelings of aimlessness or boredom can set in. They may begin shadowing their caretaker in an effort to participate and contribute to familiar tasks.

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia patients will likely be unable to recognize that their actions cause irritation to their caregivers. Shadowing typically continues until they find–or are presented with–an alternative task or focus that gives them a sense of purpose. Take the time to discover those purposes together to find your loved one the activity that resonates with them the most and relieves you of your shadow.

If you are having concerns about your loved one’s shadowing behaviors, consult with a medical professional immediately.

Willow River is Here to Help

At Willow River, we understand the challenges Alzheimer’s and dementia can bring. If you have questions or need help, Willow River has the answers and resources to assist you in this transition. Call Willow River Senior Living at 888-546-1886 or contact us through our website to start the conversation today.