Dementia Caregiving: How Can I Use the Validation Method to Help Me?

Sunrise Senior Living  |  November 5, 2018
Dementia Caregiving: How Can I Use the Validation Method to Help Me?
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When a senior close to you has dementia, one concern that often arises is how to stay connected to them. As memory loss advances and communication skills become compromised, it can be more difficult to do. Sunrise team members in our memory care neighborhoods employ the Validation Method.

In recognition of National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month in November, we’re sharing information on how the Validation Method can help you care for a loved one.

What is the Validation Method?

According to the Validation Training Institute, Validation is defined as follows:

“A practical way of working that helps reduce stress, enhance dignity, and increase happiness. Validation is built on an empathetic attitude and a holistic view of individuals.”

It is a method that helps dementia caregivers and families learn how to put themselves in the shoes of the person with memory loss and join their journey—or their personal reality.

Naomi Feil, the founder of Validation, says there are three primary components:

  1. Recognizing that some unusual behaviors might be caused by the older adult’s need to resolve unfinished business and life issues. Their cognitive decline can make it more difficult to express themselves and to move forward.
  2. Treating a senior with empathy and understanding to let them know they aren’t being judged.
  3. Using specific verbal and nonverbal techniques so that people experiencing memory loss feel heard and fully understood.

Benefits of Validation 

Using Validation techniques with adults who have dementia has many benefits:

  • Restores sense of self-worth and self-esteem
  • May help the senior avoid the need for medication
  • Reduces stress, anxiety, and agitation
  • Helps improve overall well-being
  • Allows the senior and their caregivers to feel connected

“It’s so valuable because it gives the person the opportunity to fully express their feelings and concerns, and that gives them relief,” says Rita Altman, Sunrise Senior Living’s senior vice president of Memory Care & Program Services. “It’s just like with all of us—when we voice something that’s concerning us, we feel better.”

Tips for Using Validation

Validation techniques help friends and family connect with a loved one who is anxious, upset, or having trouble communicating because of a loss of verbal skills. All are common issues for people who have dementia.

Here are a few tips to help you use this therapeutic communication  method successfully:

  • First always take a few deep centering breaths. Inhale through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. This helps you to feel calmer and more open and responsive.
  • Listen carefully and without interrupting when your loved one is trying to communicate with you.
  • Try to look for the real meaning, concern, or unmet need behind what the senior is expressing.
  • Don’t try to reorient the person to present reality. Try to enter their world instead.
  • Ask questions to gather more information, but refrain from using phrases such as “do you remember” and “why” that can put the senior on the defensive.
  • Rephrase what they told you to help clarify that you understand what they are trying to say.

It’s also important not to tell any of the white lies dementia caregivers sometimes resort to out of sheer frustration. While it’s tempting to do, it can undermine the trust your loved one places in you.

“Instead of lying, we should meet the person where they are,” says Altman, who was trained by Feil and is one of about a dozen certified Validation masters worldwide. “We should use empathy and try to step inside their shoes and feel their needs.” For more information, read this article on why and how to avoid therapeutic lying.

You can learn more about using the Validation Method to connect with a senior who has dementia by listening to The Senior Caregiver podcast. Rita Altman covers the different stages of Alzheimer’s, what families should expect as the disease progresses, and tips for staying engaged and connected with your loved one. 

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