Communicating with people who are experiencing dementia, age-related cognitive decline, and/or disorientation can be challenging. However, it’s not impossible—especially with the right tools in place. One particularly effective method for communicating with disoriented seniors? The Validation Method. Here’s a closer look at this method of helping seniors and their caregivers share less stressful, more meaningful connections. About the Validation Method
Validation theory proposes that the elderly are often engaged in a struggle to resolve unfinished life issues before death. It breaks down this age-specific, human-behavior into four progressive stages, each with its own unique characteristics. These include:
- Malorientation, during which seniors express past conflicts in “disguised” forms
- Time confusion, during which seniors retreat inward while losing grasp of reality
- Repetitive motion, during which movements replace words as a means of working through unresolved issues
- Vegetation, during which seniors lose the resolve to live and instead shut out the world
Created by Naomi Feil M.S.W., A.C.S.W., Validation theory comprises the following 11 principles, as delineated by the Validation Training Institute (VTI) website:
- All very old people are unique and worthwhile.
- Maloriented and disoriented old people should be accepted as they are: we should not try to change them.
- Listening with empathy builds trust, reduces anxiety and restores dignity.
- Painful feelings that are expressed, acknowledged and validated by a trusted listener will diminish. Painful feelings that are ignored or suppressed will gain in strength.
- There is a reason behind the behavior of very old maloriented and disoriented people.
- The reasons that underlie the behavior of maloriented or disoriented very old people can be one or more of a multitude of basic human needs, including everything from the need to die in peace to the need for sensory stimulation.
- Early learned behaviors return when verbal ability and recent memory fails.
- Personal symbols used by maloriented or disoriented elderly are people or things (in present time) that represent people, things or concepts from the past that are laden with emotion.
- Maloriented and disoriented old people live on several levels of awareness, often at the same time.
- When the five senses fail, maloriented and disoriented elderly stimulate and use their “inner senses’. They see with their “mind’s eye’ and hear sounds from the past.
- Events, emotions, colors, sounds, smells, tastes and images create emotions, which in turn trigger similar emotions experienced in the past. Old people react in present time, the same way they did in the past.
Why Validation Matters
While understanding is important for all humans, Validation Theory proposes that it’s particularly paramount for seniors in their final stages of life.
Everyone from physicians to social workers successfully use Validation to help relieve pain and promote peace among seniors. Caregivers are particularly well-positioned to integrate Validation into their own behaviors. In providing an example of an adult caregiver whose elderly mother has accused her of throwing away her cherished belongings, Alzheimers.net suggests using the following positive dialogue instead of denying or negating the accusation, “Your wedding ring is gone. You think I’ve stolen it?,” “It was a beautiful ring,” “How did you and Dad meet?”
According to experts this approach—which puts empathy and respect at the forefront—can help seniors feel supported while retaining their dignity. Over time, this can lead to positive changes in outlook and behavior, including fewer symptoms and an enhanced sense of self-worth.
Concludes VTI of Validation theory’s role in helping disoriented elderly people during this difficult stage of life, “Their final struggle is important and we, as caregivers, can help them. Using Validation techniques we offer disoriented elderly an opportunity to express what they wish to express whether it is verbal or non-verbal communication. Validation practitioners are caring, non-judgemental and open to the feelings that are expressed. When disoriented elderly can express the things that have often been suppressed for many years, the intensity of the feelings lessen, people communicate more and are less likely to withdraw into further stages of disorientation.”
And while Validation serves seniors, it also has benefits for caregivers, too. In opening up the lines of communication, it also opens new channels for connection and love.If you're looking for a comprehensive resource for family caregivers, check out our online Family Caregiver Guide.
mmLearn.org offers a large library of free videos for caregivers of older adults, covering topics pertaining to senior care. Whether you are a healthcare professional or a family caregiver, if you are caring for an older adult we know that you will find mmLearn.org an essential learning and guidance tool for all of your caregiver training needs." For more online training resources for caregivers, including how to communicate with someone who has Alzheimer's Disease and how to speak with someone with advanced dementia, access our database of free online caregiver videos today.