Shadowing in Alzheimer’s: Two Sides of a Coin

National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month

The Problem With Alzheimer’s

When a beloved family member receives an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, long-term care is a big issue in the United States. This is especially true when the recipients and their family members have to contend with a condition as devastating as Alzheimer’s disease. Although caregivers have unlimited access to resources, such as long-term care consumer guides and various studies, no one can truly be prepared for the toll that Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia can take.

Currently, more than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. And while this number may be already considered too many, research shows that the number could rise to 16 million by 2050. It is the sixth leading cause of death with 1 out of 3 seniors reported to die from the disease. In fact, it kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.

Alzheimer’s disease gets worse over time, and it affects the family caregivers and the diagnosed alike. Relationships may change, and roles may be reversed. It can take a lot from both sides, and truthfully, it often does. After all, the symptoms and impacts vary that it is easy for anyone to be overwhelmed by the whole situation. One such part of Alzheimer’s is Shadowing.

Shadowing in Alzheimer’s is when the people with the disease constantly trail their caregivers. This is when they mimic their caregivers, go wherever the caregivers go, or become very anxious when their caregivers are not in sight.

From the Perspective of the Person with Alzheimer’s Disease

Often the root of shadowing is confusion and fear. Individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia are going through drastic changes. What used to be familiar to them becomes completely alien. And when they cannot make sense out of their surroundings, it can be quite terrifying. They may easily become fearful and anxious about their environment. And to feel safe and calm themselves, they tend to follow their primary caregivers around.

They become their caregiver’s perpetual shadow. Many relate this to the relationship of a small child and a parent. The child is completely dependent on the parent, and the latter’s presence enforces a sense of security.

Through the Eyes of the CaregiverCaring for someone with Alzheimer's can be discouraging and frustrating--especially when you need a break. Try these two simple solutions to help your loved one through transition times.

Caregiving can take its toll on an individual in various ways. It can affect a person physically, emotionally, financially, and mentally, which is why taking breaks are often a must. However, for caregivers to individuals with Alzheimer’s, taking time off may be difficult to achieve. When their care recipients are shadowing them constantly, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and frustrated. And when this happens, their feelings of guilt can multiply.

It is important to note that when these feelings arise, caregivers must remember that their feelings are valid. They can feel frustrated or overwhelmed by the whole scenario. They must acknowledge their limitations and take active measures to address the situation.

#Shadowing in Alzheimer's is a manifestation of fear and anxiety. #caregivers #alzheimers Click To TweetBear in mind that shadowing is a manifestation of fear and anxiety. The root of these two emotions must be the one that caregivers ought to address and not the behavior itself. Caregivers can encourage feelings of safety and security through activities that work best for the specific individual.

They could record their own voice conveying reassuring messages for playback to the patient during the caregiver’s absence. In addition, caregivers can identify therapeutic music that their loved one with Alzheimer’s enjoys listening to. No two cases are the same, so the caregivers must be creative in finding a way to ease the stress of their loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease.

Guest Bio

Samantha Stein is an online content manager for Her works focus on key information on long-term care insurance, financial planning, elder care, and retirement. In line with the organization’s goal, Samantha’s work highlights the importance of having a good long-term care plan, which includes requesting a long-term care insurance quote to securing comprehensive coverage.


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Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a 'recovering cancer caregiver' who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

Please note: We reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Wow. This is very informative and relevant. I didn’t know this happens. The shadowing must be frustrating for the patient and even for the caregiver.
    Thank you for sharing your suggestions.
    God bless

    • You’re welcome :).

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  • This post makes me sad, just as it breaks my heart whenever I hear of yet another mind and life sucked into the black hole of dementia. I realize that it’s just a symptom of my own advancing age. So many of the people I have looked up to and enjoyed are lost to us before their bodies ever leave this planet.

    Thanks for information here that will give confidence and comfort to caregivers.

    • I know :(. It’s a heartbreaking disease.

  • I wasn’t aware of shadowing either, so this is good info to have. My mother passed away from Alzheimer’s at age 71. It was such a hard time for everyone involved. I’m grateful that she is now whole again and in her best mind. My own worst fear is that I will get it one day myself. 🙁

    • When I was a teenager my mom ran a home care system in our house–so I had a lot of experience being around people with Alzheimer’s. Of course, it’s probably very different when it’s your own parents and not a client. My anti-Alzheimer’s plan is birding…maybe I’ll pick up another language, too. The experts say that learning new things helps prevent it :).

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  • A friend went through this with her mother-in-law several years ago. It was understandable but still frustrating for her. I’m glad information like this is more readily available now. My own m-i-l does not have Alzheimer’s but does have some degree of dementia. She is immobile, so she couldn’t shadow anyone, but her dementia did flare up if he was away for a couple of days.

    • That must be so difficult! My parents and in-laws are still healthy–but I love learning about things that will help me when the time comes that their health isn’t that great.

  • I was not familiar with the term “shadowing,” but I have heard stories about how anxious the person with dementia can be when not with their caregiver. I have cared for my husband’s parents and now my own mom, but that hasn’t been part of the equation. My heart goes out to those who are faced with that challenge. Thanks for so much helpful information. I know I will have occasion to share it.

    • And may God be with you as you care for your husband’s parents! Caregiving can take a real toll on the caregiver, and its so important to discover ways to deal with the stress :).

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