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On her way to becoming a pioneer in memory care, Naomi Feil faced external obstacles as well as her own self-doubt. Feil, founder and director-in-chief of the Validation Training Institute, is the creator of Validation Therapy - a method for responding effectively and respectfully to people in senior living who experience cognitive concerns. In an interview with The Legacy Project, Feil spoke about Validation and her own journey in revolutionizing care for seniors with dementia.
Changing with a challenge
Early in her career, Feil recognized that when it came to responding to dementia, something had to change. Working with seniors who had cognitive concerns, Feil noticed that when patients experienced outbursts and confusion, caregivers typically reacted with "reality orientation" methods, which focused on clarifying the situation and emphasizing an understanding of the current environment. While the strategy helped in some cases, Feil felt that it failed to address the source of the occurrence and truly connect with the individuals. She wanted to better understand the disorientation instead of just responding to it.
Feil's idea was innovative and unlike anything tried before, and while she believed it could be successful, convincing others took a bit more work. She spoke about criticism from her peers and the people working above her, as well as her own self-doubt, but credits her resilience and perseverance with the development and spread of the Validation method.
"I knew I had something good. I didn't doubt myself but I was afraid that no one would listen," Feil said. "I was afraid that the head nurse, doctors, researchers, government officials and other authorities would overpower my efforts to help older people. Having grown up with disoriented elderly I knew what I did worked. But lots of rejection held me back. It took many years of going on with my work, not confronting the authorities but building my work and spreading the new ideas. That's where my inner strength really carried me forward."
Today, Feil's Validation method continues to connect caregivers with individuals in retirement living who experience dementia and other cognitive disorders. At Sunrise Senior Living, Memory Care service members align their approach to the confusion and outbursts of memory loss with Feil's system, offering a personal and comprehensive means of understanding dementia. The Validation method, or as some people call it, "Validation Therapy" continues to serve seniors across the nation and globe, and Feil said she hopes that her legacy will promote greater awareness about dementia and respect for people of all cognitive abilities.