Developed in the 1960s and 1970s by Naomi Feil, validation therapy for dementia offers holistic therapy that empathizes with elderly patients by helping to connect with them through listening and dignified care in their final stages of life. With a little patience and observation, validation therapy also offers a glimpse into the human brain, stages of dementia, and the desire for peace before death.
We still have a lot to learn from the human brain. The validation method provides insight into behaviors and thoughts for those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Making an effort to communicate with them, even though they may be disoriented and suffer from hallucinations, offers not only a practical way to help reduce their stress, enhance their dignity and increase their happiness, but also learn from their disease and understand the meaning of their sometimes bizarre behavior. Learn more about using validation therapy for dementia.
Validation Therapy provides an insightful and kind way to gain knowledge while comforting dementia sufferers. Much like De Hogeweyk’s Dementiaville in Amsterdam, an Alzheimer’s community where everyday life caters to the disease’s hallucinations, patient compassion contributes toward elder happiness and better quality of life.
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Naomi Feil, a Munich native who grew up in a family home for seniors in Ohio, decided to work with the aging population after receiving her degree in social work from Columbia University. Growing up with elders in tandem with her social work education, she believed she could help seniors who suffered from Alzheimer’s.
Between 1963-1980, Feil developed the validation method as a response to her dissatisfaction with traditional methods of working with severely disoriented old people, and published a book on it called: “Validation: The Feil Method” in 1982.
Another book, “The Validation Breakthrough,” followed in 1993. In addition to workshops offered through her Validation Training Institute, Feil and her husband have produced several films and videos about aging and validation therapy for dementia.
Validation emphasizes empathy and listening. It views Alzheimer’s-type dementia patients as unique and worthwhile and as being in the final stages of life. Basically, the thought is that these seniors are trying to resolve unfinished business so they can pass away in peace. The caregiver’s job is to offer these individuals a means for expression, either verbally or nonverbally.
As ALZWell Caregiver Support explains, validation is about the person’s needs. Instead of ignoring or stopping what might be viewed as irrational or illogical behavior, validation offers alternatives. It focuses on the objective of being ‘here and now’ and doesn’t ask why.
The following arethe principles of validation therapy, as discussed in Feil’s book, “The Validation Breakthrough”:
Validation therapy advocates that, rather than trying to bring the person with dementia back to our reality, it is more positive to enter their reality. In this way empathy is developed with the person, building trust and a sense of security. This in turn reduces anxiety. Feil’s key components of validation therapy are as follows:
These components can be used in practice by both a caregiver or physician. Feil offers examples of validation in practice:
Caregivers can use the validation therapy for dementia in everyday life. For example, if the mother believes someone is throwing away her precious belongings, such as scrapbooks and photo albums — when in reality these items are being hidden by the mother — the caregiver might respond in this way:
Physicians use validation therapy to talk and comfort the elder, rather than telling the senior he or she is wrong if they’re suffering from hallucinations. Instead of prescribing medications to reduce patient anxiety, the doctor tries to have meaningful conversations discussing what the elder is experiencing by matching emotions through empathetic statements.
For example, if the elder thinks the physician is her husband who had passed away five years earlier and she wants him to take her to their home, the physician might respond in this manner:
By having a meaningful conversation with the elder, the physician is able to get a glimpse into the patient’s suffering and reasoning and is able to soothe her by having a comforting conversation.
By rephrasing the situation and reminiscing about the mother’s youth, the caregiver is able turn the conversation into a positive one.
Family members, professional caregivers, nurses, home health aides, physicians and social workers, to name a few, can benefit from learning validation techniques. In fact, over 10,000 agencies in the U.S., Europe, Japan and Australia use the Validation Method, according to the Validation Training Institute.
Feil notes other benefits of Validation:
“Disoriented old-old people respond to Validation. Change in behavior is slow and fluctuates from day to day, but permanent change does occur.”
Here are some of the results you can expect:
Through empathy and respect, validation practitioners help people with Alzheimer’s and dementia feel listened to and supported. They can regain the dignity their disease has stolen, and, ideally, feel a greater sense of peace in their final stage of life. This comfort may not cure the disease, but it helps with the symptoms and offers better quality of life for senior loved ones.
Do you have experience with the validation method or know anyone who does? Has it helped comfort your aging loved one? We’d love to hear your comments below.