My mother with dementia is "my shadow." How do I get her to stop following me all day long?

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Q: My mother with dementia is "my shadow." How do I get her to stop following me all day long?

A: As Carl Jung says, "we begin healing our lives when we ask our shadow to lunch." But I assume you have done that many times.

Dementia, much like any chronic illness that involves the mind is a bio-psycho-social phenomenon. What that means is that as a loved one's dementia progresses, we need to make sure that all three legs of "the stool" are attended to.

In the case of your Mom following you all day long, it appears that she is progressing and you may need respite. Her primary care doctor, neurologist or geriatrician should see her and if she is cognitively capable, get her involved with a well-trained therapist specializing in geriatric health.

But I suspect it is the third leg of the stool, the social, needing attention here. Mom will follow you until there is an alternative that she feels is more meaningful. Hence, it may be what she is saying with this behavior is "I am alone, scared and have no social support systems other than you."

Often as caregivers, we believe it is about us when it really is about the caree connecting to a milieu or program; or even a support group, if capable, where they can feel connected, valued and safe. I would call around in your area to the Alzheimer's Association or other specialized organization that attends specifically to your Mom's particular condition. There are day programs and drop in centers not to mention ways to involve other family members, whether they be biologically or ‘by choice" in her life.

Being "the shadow" is a burden no one wants. It does not help her mental health or yours. It certainly does not help your self-esteem or hers. Both of you may need safe places to begin finding your own authentic shadows in the "caregiving-caree process."
Start making those calls today!

Dr. James Huysman co-founded the Leeza Gibbons Memory Foundation and co-authored "Take Your Oxygen First. Protecting Your Health and Happiness While Caring for a Loved One with Memory Loss." Read his full biography .

Dr. Jamie Huysman, LCSW

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Dr. James Huysman, PsyD, LCSW, CAP, CFT is an authority on caregiver burnout, compassion and addictions. He blogs for Psychology Today, and is on the NASW committee aimed at establishing national standardization of caregiving. With a practice in South Florida, he runs wellness workshops for professionals and family caregivers.

Dr. Jamie

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11 Comments

Isn't this a caregiver forum?? This lady needs respite. I too have a little Mother who follows me around all day asking "What can I do to help." It gets tiresome and I am getting burned out. The thing that does help is when another family member gives me some badly needed time away from my Mother. All you brothers and sisters out there who are not helping with the caretaking of your elderly parent please listen up!!
I AGREE WITH THE ABOVE ARTICLE. MY MOM ALSO HAS DEMENTIA SO I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOUR GOING THRU. MOM STILL FEELS THE NEED TO BE NEEDED. SO ANYTHING THAT SHE USE TO DO, AND CAN STILL SAFELY DO AROUND THE HOUSE IS ONE WAY TO KEEP HER BUSY. MY MOM (LIKE ME) LOVES TO SHOP SO WE GOT HER A COUPLE HUGE CATALOGS TO LOOK AT, AND THAT CAN KEEP HER BUSY, AND STIMULATES HER BRAIN A LITTLE. WHATEVER YOUR MOM DID BEFORE SHE WAS SICK JUST TRY TO INCORPARATE WHATEVER YOU CAN INTO HER DAILY ROUTINE. SHE IS GOING TO NEED YOU MORE, BUT THIER ARE ALSO WAYS TO KEEP HER BUSY TO GIVE YOU TIME. HOPE I HELPED A LITTLE!! THIS WEBSITE IS A TRUE BLESSING FOR US CARE GIVERS WHO NEED FRESH IDEAS OR A LISTENING EAR. BEST WISHES WITH MOM. KELLYB
As with kids, ....if you say to them happily, I need your help with something !
like cutting & paste pictures in a scrap book, which would keep them busy for a
while or re organizing the nuts and bolts in little boxes. Simple but time consume.