Dementia patients often exhibit a behavior called “shadowing”, where they follow their caregivers or loved ones around consistently. There are a few key reasons why this phenomenon occurs.
One of the main symptoms of dementia is memory loss. As the disease progresses, dementia patients have increasing difficulty recalling faces, names, places and events. A familiar face like a caregiver or family member becomes a source of comfort and security amidst the confusion of lost memories. Following that familiar person helps the dementia patient feel anchored.
Dementia patients may also forget directions, familiar places, and where they are. Sticking close to a caregiver or loved one helps them feel oriented. If they become separated, they are more likely to become disoriented or lost.
In addition to memory loss, dementia patients experience a decline in judgement. They have trouble determining which behaviors are safe or appropriate. Without supervision, dementia patients may inadvertently put themselves in danger.
For example, a dementia patient may try to cook but forget to turn off the stove, or wander outside unsafely. Sticking close to a caregiver allows oversight and keeps the dementia patient from unsafe situations their judgement can no longer discern.
Desire for Reassurance
Dementia is a profoundly disorienting disease. Dementia patients are aware something is wrong with their mind, but are unable to do anything about it. This causes anxiety, fear and uncertainty. Shadowing a trusted person is reassuring – it helps the dementia patient feel protected and secure.
Additionally, the emotional reassurance of a loved one’s presence is calming for a dementia patient. As their cognitive faculties decline, emotions take on more importance. Keeping their loved one nearby fulfills an emotional need for comfort and familiarity.
Difficulty Initiating Actions
As dementia progresses, patients lose the ability to initiate and independently sustain actions or tasks. Known as “apraxia”, this inability to self-start impairs simple activities like getting dressed or eating.
This difficulty translating thought into action makes dementia patients prone to inactivity. By shadowing a caregiver, the dementia patient engages in walking, moving, and changing locations. Following someone helps give momentum and direction to their movements.
Dementia patients are often unable to fill time meaningfully on their own. Activities that once occupied their time, like reading, watching TV or household chores, become difficult. With little to do, dementia patients are prone to boredom.
Shadowing a caregiver gives activity and variety to their day. It provides mental stimulation through changing environments and social interaction. Moving from room to room alongside someone is one way to alleviate tediousness.
Agitation and Sundowning
Dementia patients frequently experience “sundowning” in the late afternoon and evenings. This involves increased confusion, anxiety, agitation, pacing and shadowing behaviors. The onset of darkness and evening shadows seem to trigger sundowning.
Following a caregiver closely in the evenings may be an attempt to cope with this agitation. The familiarity of a caregiver dampens anxiety when the dementia patient’s confusion is heightened.
Dementia patients tire easily. Daily tasks like getting dressed or walking across a room can become exhausting. This fatigue leads them to seek support rather than exert their declining energy.
Shadowing someone allows the dementia patient to move about without expending as much effort. The caregiver essentially “pulls” them along, allowing them to conserve strength.
Poor Visual Perception
Dementia impacts visual processing, depth perception and spatial awareness. Rooms and streets can seem warped or distorted. This visual confusion causes disorientation and uncertainty.
Sticking right beside someone provides a clear focal point. The caregiver becomes an anchor point for the dementia patient to latch onto, keeping their surroundings from seeming to shift or melt.
Seeking Human Interaction
Dementia patients often feel lonely and isolated. Simple social interactions like small talk or eye contact become difficult. Yet the need for human closeness remains.
Physically shadowing a caregiver fulfills this need for intimacy and attachment. It allows the dementia patient to feel involved through proximity, even if conversing is frustratingly beyond reach.
Dementia patients shadow caregivers for a variety of reasons. Memory loss, impaired judgement, and boredom all motivate the desire for close company. Shadowing also provides reassurance, social contact, fatigue relief and clarity amid mental decline. Understanding why this phenomenon occurs helps caregivers respond with empathy and compassion.