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Validation Therapy & Dementia Care

February 26, 2019

Validation is a good feeling. Most of us try to surround ourselves with people who, through their words and actions, make us feel understood and supported. The need to feel validated doesn’t disappear when someone develops Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia, but it can be hard for loved ones and caregivers to provide validation to someone whose mental state is so different from their own. That’s where validation therapy comes in.

Seniors doing hand stress exercises

What Is Validation Therapy?

Validation therapy involves communicating with people who have dementia in a way that acknowledges their words and actions with respect and empathy, rather than with embarrassment, anger or dismissiveness.

Validation therapy is intended for very elderly people with moderate to severe dementia who are nearing the end of life. The theory behind validation therapy suggests that people in this situation are driven by basic needs that are hard for them to express because of their disease. Those needs can include feeling loved, safe, useful and ultimately, at peace before they die. Validation therapy can be used by loved ones and caregivers to help people with dementia work through their struggle to express these needs.

The most important part of validation therapy is listening. By listening attentively and responding respectfully, you validate the person with dementia by showing your willingness to enter their world, rather than trying to force them into yours.

How Validation Therapy Can Help Dementia Patients

Not all medical professionals and caregivers embrace validation therapy. But those who do say it can improve the lives of people with dementia by helping them feel listened to and appreciated. It can prevent them from feeling dismissed, which can help them avoid anger, arguments and other negative feelings or behaviors that people, especially those with dementia, are more likely to display when they feel disrespected or misunderstood. Validation therapy may make people with dementia more communicative and less withdrawn, improve their sense of humor, and even slow mental deterioration.

Those improvements, in turn, can reduce stress for caregivers. Validation therapy can also help caregivers better understand any underlying issues that are contributing to a loved one’s unusual behavior.

Validation Therapy Examples 

Here are a few validation strategies you can use when interacting with someone who has dementia:

  • Use a clear, low-pitched, loving tone of voice.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Don’t argue with them.
  • Don’t ask them why they did or said something or tell them they’re wrong. Instead, ask about the more basic facts of the situation. They’ll likely be more comfortable telling you the who, what, when, where and how than the why.
  • Turn the conversation toward a positive memory from their youth that’s related to something they’re doing or saying in the present.
  • Try to set your emotions aside so you can really focus on what they’re saying, what they’re doing, the ways in which those things may reflect issues they’re struggling with, and how you can respond in a way that makes them feel heard.

It’s natural to respond to unusual behavior with discomfort. But next time you feel yourself about to respond to someone with dementia by rolling your eyes, cutting them off, or chastising them out of uneasiness or embarrassment, give validation strategies a try instead. You may find that open ears, a smile, and a nodding head can make life better – for both of you.

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