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The National Council of Certified Dementia Practitioners Alzheimer’s and Dementia Staff Education Week runs from Feb. 14-21.

The author of this blog has worked with patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and Dementia for quite some time, while observing how many nurses and caregivers approached these patients by responding negatively to their questions. A patient would, for example, walk from room to room, and when being asked: what are you looking for? To which she responded: I am looking for my babies.

The common response is: But your children are no longer alive or they are in England. The appropriate response should be: Tell me about your babies.

For this reason, I decided to write about the validation theory, which was developed in the 1960s and 1970s to treat Alzheimer’s disease, the Validation Method is a holistic therapy that focuses on empathy and provides a means for people with the disease to communicate. This is an invaluable techniques for connecting with loved ones with Alzheimer’s, enhancing their dignity and bringing them peace (Wegerer: 2019)

 

Example

Validation theory emphasises empathy and listening. It views people with Alzheimer’s as unique and worthwhile and as being in the final stages of life. They’re trying to resolve unfinished business so they can die in peace. The caregiver’s job is to offer these individuals a means for expression, verbally or nonverbally  (Wegerer: 2019)

An example poses an adult child helping a mother who’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The mother is convinced someone is throwing away her most precious belongings, including photo albums and scrapbooks. But the mother’s actually hiding these things.

Instead of arguing with the mother, an adult child could rephrase the situation, helping his or her mother reminisce about her youth in a positive light: “Your wedding ring is gone. You think I’ve stolen it,” “It was a beautiful ring,” “How did you and Dad meet?”

 

How Does Validation Therapy Work?

Validation therapy is a multi-step process that works for several reasons. Developed by Naomi Feil as an alternative approach back in the 1980’s, it’s still successfully used today on people with Alzheimer’s and dementia-related memory loss.

The therapy works because it doesn’t focus on the bad behavior, which usually seems irrational or illogical when you’re on the outside looking in. Rather, it brings attention to the here and now, without asking why. This can help draw conclusions and lead to healing while helping your loved ones keep their respect and dignity.

Once you have that understanding, you can follow her approach to help resolve the situation. Here are the steps to take to use validation therapy.

  1. Calm and Centre Yourself

If your loved one is having a tantrum, it might be tempting to rush in and offer assistance. It’s critical you take a moment to take a deep breath and calm yourself so that you are mentally and emotionally prepared to walk through the steps necessary to help them while still treating them with dignity and respect.

  1. Talk to Discover the Problem

Begin the conversation by asking what’s wrong and listen to the response without judgment. If, for example, your 90-year-old parent is crying out for their mother it won’t be helpful to remind them that she has long since passed away.  Once you’ve identified what’s happening, reminisce and remember with your loved one. Talk about happy times, favourite memories, and allow them to express their emotions around whatever is upsetting them.

  1. Delve Deeper

During the conversation, your loved one may remember things, or they may need gentle reminders. Ask probing questions to explore their emotions fully.  If they’re missing their mother, for example, ask what they miss most and how often they miss her. This could help stimulate the emotional healing process.

  1. Empathise and Match Emotions

One powerful way to let your loved one know that you are there to help is to match and express their same emotions. Acknowledge what they’re feeling and attempt to match their tone, body posture, and expressions while you talk with them.

  1. Rephrase and Repeat

Feeling understood is a crucial step in the healing process. To assist with this, rephrase what your loved one has told you and repeat it back to them so that they know you fully comprehend what they’re trying to express.

  1. Jog Memories with Senses

Sometimes the process of delving deep is a difficult one, especially if their disease is more advanced. Ask questions that incorporate other senses, like touch, taste, and smell, to help them describe memories and experiences.

This approach is also used for patients suffering from dementia.