When you can “step into the shoes” of another human being and “see through their eyes,” you can step into the world of people living with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and understand the meaning of their behaviors.
Validation therapy is a powerful and compassionate approach to communication that has been shown to help reduce negative behaviors in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia. By acknowledging and validating a person’s feelings, beliefs and experiences, Validation therapy can help improve the overall sense of well-being and reduce challenging behaviors that may arise from frustration or confusion.
What is Validation Therapy?
Validation therapy emphasizes empathy and listening. It is a person-centered approach to communication that validates a person’s perspective and feelings, rather than trying to correct or change them.
Developed by social worker Naomi Feil, Validation therapy is based on the belief that individuals with dementia and other cognitive impairments have an inner need to feel understood, even when their behavior may seem irrational or illogical.
Validation therapy involves several key principles, including:
- Acceptance: Validating a person’s feelings and experiences, even if they may seem confusing or contradictory.
- Empathy: Understanding an individual’s perspective and emotional state, and responding with compassion and understanding.
- Attunement: Tuning into an individual’s nonverbal cues such as body language or facial expressions to better understand how they are feeling.
- Respect: Treating each person with dignity and respect, and honoring their personal history and experiences.
How can Validation therapy help reduce negative behaviors?
Validation therapy can help reduce negative behaviors in individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia by addressing the underlying emotional and psychological needs that may be driving these behaviors. For example, a person with dementia who is agitated or confused may be experiencing fear, anxiety or frustration which can lead to aggressive or disruptive behaviors. By using Validation therapy to acknowledge and validate their feelings, caregivers and loved ones can help reduce their distress and improve their overall sense of well-being.
In addition to reducing negative behaviors, Validation therapy can also help improve communication and strengthen relationships between individuals living with dementia and their caregivers or loved ones. By using Validation therapy techniques, loved ones can better understand a person’s needs and preferences and respond in a way that is supportive and compassionate.
How can families use Validation therapy to interact with loved ones?
One of the key principles of Validation therapy is to meet the person where they are emotionally. This means that we need to be attentive to their nonverbal cues and use empathetic listening to help them feel heard and understood. For example, if a person with dementia expresses a desire to go home, one might validate those feelings by saying something like, “I can see that you really miss your home. That must be difficult for you.”
Asking open-ended, broad questions can help families explore their loved one’s concerns. These questions are those which cannot be answered with “yes” or “no.” Rather, questions that begin with who, what, when, where and how are open questions. Avoid asking “why” as it may frustrate the individual even more.
When asking a question using Validation therapy, look carefully at the loved one’s face, eyes, mouth and overall body language. Listen carefully to what they say to determine the emotions that may be driving a behavior. Country Meadows provides a tip sheet for families to use Validation therapy techniques to enjoy more successful visits with their loved ones living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia.
An important Validation therapy principle to remember is to avoid correcting or redirecting the loved one living with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia. For example, if they tell a story that is not entirely accurate, we should focus on the emotions behind the story rather than the factual details. Say something like, “That sounds like a difficult situation. How did you feel at the time?”
It is important to remember that Validation therapy is not a cure for Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia. However, it can help improve the quality of life for people living with dementias, and it can help reduce stress and burnout for caregivers. By using Validation therapy techniques, we can help people feel heard and understood and create a more positive and supportive care environment.
Country Meadows co-workers use Validation therapy in our neighborhoods for residents living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia. Country Meadows has nine locations in Pennsylvania and one campus in Frederick, Maryland. If you or a loved one are looking for compassionate memory support and would like more information about our communities, please contact us today. We’re here to help.
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