Validating Feelings for Seniors with Memory Loss

, Sunrise VP of Memory Care Services  |  August 22, 2011

Rita with a residentCaregivers of those with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of memory loss know that there may be times when their loved one seems to be in another reality, place or time. Many caregivers respond by trying to reorient them to reality, distracting and redirecting them with an activity, or even by telling them a therapeutic lie.

While some or all of these methods might temporarily appear to divert the person’s attention, none of them really gets to the heart of what the person with memory loss really needs – someone to listen to them with empathy, ask them open-ended questions and mirror the emotions that they are expressing. In other words, they need someone who will validate their feelings and try to understand and meet their basic human needs. I recently wrote an article on Huffington Post called “Validating Feelings of Seniors with Memory Loss,” which provides an example of how one can use validation to enter the world of a person with memory loss who is confused or disoriented.

At Sunrise, our care managers are trained to use basic Validation techniques, enabling them to get on the same wavelength as a resident who is confused or disoriented. This results in the resident feeling heard and respected. Instead of using reality orientation, distraction or therapeutic lies, we validate the resident’s feelings, which increases their dignity and self-worth because they now have a trusted listener who enters their world and empathizes with what they are feeling.

When we use the Validation techniques in our Reminiscence neighborhoods, we find that residents communicate more verbally and non-verbally, express less anxiety, withdraw less and have an improved sense of self-worth. Team members also express a greater sense of fulfillment in their work and feel more capable of handling difficult situations.

Finally, we work with families to teach them how to use basic validation techniques, which give them a better understanding of their loved one’s needs and results in more fulfilling visits for both the family member and resident. We’ve created a self-guided study called Journey of Discovery that helps caregivers understand their loved ones’ world with Alzheimer’s disease and to communicate using the Validation techniques.