By Douglas Motter
President at Homestead Village Enhanced Senior Living.
The key to creating positive, enjoyable and beneficial visits with your loved ones is a concept known as Validation. From the time we were young, all of us have experienced the opposite – reality orientation. As students, employees and community members, we are expected to be oriented to our surroundings and be on the same page as everyone else. Dementia robs individuals of this skill and it is probably the most frustrating, agitating, and frightening aspect of the disease.
What Is Validation?
Validation is a way of communicating with people who have dementia or Alzheimer’s that acknowledges their words and actions with respect and empathy, rather than responding with correction and rebuke. The theory behind validation suggests that people with memory loss are driven by basic needs such as feeling loved, safe, useful and ultimately, at peace before they die. Validation 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 is listening. By listening closely 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.
Your relationship with an older adult with dementia may have previously been based in reality. You talked about your lives, your experiences, the places you lived and the people you knew. One of the hardest changes in a relationship with a person with dementia is that sometimes reality is lost. Your older adult with Alzheimer’s or other dementia may no longer realize their age. They may think you are a sibling or even a parent as they do not see themselves as old as they are. They may ask to go home; but not have a clear memory of where or what home is. Home might be a combination of the place where they grew up, the place they first lived after marriage and the place where they raised their kids. Home could be a place they have not visited for decades.
Likewise, dementia robs your older adult of some of the most important shared experiences that you have had – especially the passing of their parents, their spouse, their children or friends. Our most basic reaction is to remind them, “Don’t you remember, mom passed away three years ago?” For the person with dementia, this will be news to them and could generate feelings of fear, anger, grief and disbelief. These feelings will be repeated every time they are reminded of the loss. That is why validating their understanding of the world they live in is a far better approach.
Visiting a person with dementia or Alzheimer’ requires a shift in our responses – something like this:
Instead of “Don’t you remember?”, try “What do you think about ______?”
Instead of “That is not right.”, try “Tell me more about that.”
Instead of “You asked me that question already.”, try “Let’s talk about ______.”
You might hear the same story over and over again, which can be tiring and frustrating; but if your older adult doesn’t remember telling you the story and they are enjoying it, then your visit is a success! Remember the goal of a visit with someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s is to leave them feeling cared for, respected and loved!
If you have any questions about Validation, do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.