Witnessing the gradual decline of a loved one diagnosed with dementia, can be emotionally devastating. As dementia progresses, individuals may experience a diminishing sense of self-worth, leading to a withdrawal from their closest relationships out of fear that they are no longer capable or valuable in today’s society. Consequently, families often find themselves in a state of hopelessness, uncertain of how to provide meaningful support and navigate the challenges associated with dementia.
Fortunately, there are treatments that can make a difference. One approach is validation therapy, which offers hope by alleviating related symptoms and significantly improving the overall quality of life, even in the absence of a definitive cure.
Validation therapy revolves around ensuring that patients are truly seen and understood, and their unresolved issues are compassionately addressed. By employing empathy and acknowledging their experiences, this therapeutic approach aims to help when behavioral changes occur. In this article, we delve into the concept of validation therapy, exploring how it may provide valuable support to help both individuals living with dementia and caregivers involved.
What is Validation Therapy?
Naomi Feil created validation therapy initially during the ’60s/’70s as a technique tailored towards treating those dealing with dementia. Above all else, validation therapy prioritizes active listening and ensuring elderly individuals feel respected throughout every stage of care provision.
In essence, it operates under the guiding principle that all human beings are entitled to respect regardless of cognitive abilities. This highlights that individual dignity should not be overlooked under any circumstance.
Additionally, validation therapy differentiates itself from historical treatments by placing more emphasis on positive aspects than perceived problems that come with cognitive decline.
Rather than trying to alter specific behaviors, caregivers provide a listening ear and compassionate support to those feeling confused or unwanted from the perspective of elders’ behavior.
Irrational conduct may cause feelings of frustration and confusion in caregivers. But rather than trying to correct this behavior overtly, validation therapy functions differently here.
By encouraging empathy towards elders’ lived experiences, validation therapy provides worthwhile alternatives that foster constructive outcomes. This approach can be really beneficial in increasing quality of life and sense of dignity in individuals who are living with dementia.
Though it take some effort & practice to implement this technique , helping individuals living with dementia gain a sense of purpose is so rewarding to everyone involved.
How Does Validation Therapy Help In Dementia?
For people experiencing dementia symptoms accompanied by anxiety or restlessness, providing appropriate care becomes even more critical. Validation therapy offers a way for families or healthcare professionals to help mitigate these troubling emotions effectively. This is done by first showing empathy towards each person when symptoms are noticed.
Validation therapy helps people with dementia in the following ways:
1. Prevents Withdrawal
Those who feel unheard or unimportant often resort to withdrawing from social engagements. The effects of withdrawal can worsen existing health issues such as agitation or pacing behaviors. Validating their perspectives through conversation will build rapport between caregivers and those living with dementia.. By building rapport, we are allowing that individual to feel heard, understood, and we are continuing to create new ways to connect with them.
2. Makes Them Feel Valued
For those living with dementia, the daily routines that were once second nature can now evoke overwhelming anxiety. The fear of making mistakes or overlooking important details can cause major distress. Simple tasks like dressing, becomes difficult for an individual in the middle to later stages of dementia to complete. We may notice they will isolate themselves from loved ones as they feel they are a burden on them.
In such challenging circumstances, validation therapy emerges as a powerful intervention, prioritizing effective communication strategies to help make the individual living with dementia feel valued. By embracing validation therapy, we foster an environment of positivity and encourage individuals to express their feelings, restoring their sense of worth and belonging.
3. Reduces Frustration
Practicing validation therapy can be very beneficial for individuals who are living with dementia. The method prioritizes empathy over confrontation and/or correction, leading to improved rapport & communication between the caregiver and the person living with dementia.
They’re encouraged to speak about what they perceive is happening presently, resulting in decreasing confusion and distress.
How To Use Validation Successfully?
For caregivers seeking ways to improve emotional well-being and helping with changes in behavior episodes in individuals living with dementia, validation therapy can be beneficial.
First, we start off by building rapport, by fostering a pleasant environment that builds trust between both parties.
Secondly, validate the individual’s emotions. Validate the emotion by repeating and reflecting back what the person has said to demonstrate we are actively listening and trying to understand their perspective. This reassures them that their thoughts and feelings are heard and respected.
Another way I implement validation therapy is by assuring the individual they are safe and everything is taken care of. This can be especially helpful in challenging situations.
After I validate the emotion and reassure the individual that they are okay (assuming they are not in any danger), I distract them with activity or conversation. I’ve found it’s necessary to distract with activities or a conversation only AFTER validation is utilized.
Safety concerns must also be addressed promptly to provide an added sense of reassurance if needed.
Sometimes, people with dementia are experiencing situations that are confusing and frustrating for them. They might say things that are not true or see things that aren’t really there. But it’s important to understand and support their emotions during these moments.
When they express their feelings, it’s helpful to listen and show that you understand. Even if what they’re saying isn’t real, it’s important to let them know that you care about how they feel. By doing this, they will trust you even more.
To be there for them, it’s important to show empathy and not judge them. They need to feel that they can trust you and talk to you without being afraid. This way, they can freely express themselves and know that you’re on their side.
Sometimes, people with dementia might see things that aren’t real, like bugs crawling on the floor. Even if we tell them that there are no bugs, they still see them because their mind believes it’s true. It’s important to remember that these things they see don’t actually hurt them.
Instead of arguing or trying to change their mind, we can use kind and understanding words to help them feel better. We can say things like, “I understand this must be so scary for you. You don’t need to worry because I’m here to protect you and I will take care of it. You are safe.”
This can help them feel more calm and less scared.
Remember, even if we can’t see what they see, we can still support and comfort them by being understanding and reassuring.
Sometimes, when people have dementia, they might accuse you of things that you didn’t do. For example, they might say, “You stole my jewelry!” But it’s important to remember that they might be confused and this response is due to the brain changes that are happening as a result of dementia.
Instead of arguing or trying to convince them that you didn’t take their jewelry, it’s better to respond with kindness and understanding. You can say something like:
“It sounds like you’re feeling worried and concerned about your missing jewelry. Let’s go see if we can find it. Do you remember where you had it last?”
By responding this way, you show that you care about their feelings and you’re willing to help them. It can cause less distress in that moment for the individual living with dementia.
Validation therapy is a powerful and compassionate approach to dementia care. By validating the emotions, experiences, and reality of individuals living with dementia, caregivers can establish trust, reduce distress, and improve overall well-being for everyone involved.
Respectful communication is key when applying Validation Therapy to support people with dementia. Treating individuals with empathy restores some lost dignity that may have resulted due to challenges posed by their condition.
Apart from decreasing agitation and frustration, feeling validated helps individuals experience renewed hope. Feeling supported by others around them eases stress felt both by themselves and by others close to them.