Date: October 2, 2018

Author: Duncan Gumaer


It can be notoriously difficult to communicate with a disoriented person. When dementia causes someone to behave as though they were in their own time and space, many of our instincts to help can have the opposite effect. Although there’s no cure for dementia, practices like validation therapy may provide relief. But what is validation therapy, exactly?

The Principles of Validation Theory

Is there an underlying reason for the behaviors of disoriented people? According to validation theory, the answer is yes. Proponents believe in order to help someone with dementia, it’s necessary to cultivate a more holistic view of that person. That’s because the theory proposes the behaviors exhibited in dementia do not only reflect anatomical changes in the brain, but a lifetime of psychological changes.

Seeking peace, people with dementia are trying to cope with unfinished issues in their own way. And in the final stages of their lives, these issues may be expressed in verbal or non-verbal disguises. However, when those negative feelings are allowed to be expressed, the theory holds those feelings will be diminished by validation. Conversely, ignoring or suppressing those negative feelings may make them more severe.

In short, validation theory suggests when you can see the world through the eyes of a disoriented person, you can better understand their behavior and help to make a person feel more validated. Applying those principles to practice, validation therapy is all about having an empathetic attitude when communicating with the disoriented elderly. It’s about making loved ones respected instead of marginalized, criticized, belittled, or judged.

Reality Orientation and Validation Therapy

A few validation therapy techniques can go a long way towards helping a person retain their sense of dignity and improving their sense of wellbeing. What are validation strategies in aged care? Rather than trying to bring our reality to a person with dementia, validation therapy pursues better patient outcomes by working to see things from the other person’s perspective.

Suppose an 85-year-old woman asks for breakfast only moments after she’s finished eating. Instead of rejecting her with a comment like, “It’s 8:15, you just finished eating. There’s no way you’re hungry already”, a validating response might inquire “What kind of foods do you find filling?” Instead of rejecting the behavior, attempt to support the needs being expressed.

Simple Validation Techniques

If a loved one is struggling to perform a basic skill, help them reminisce about how they were able to solve similar problems in the past. Remembering old victories can be an effective means of helping them rediscover old ways of handling current issues.

It can be frustrating to communicate with a person who seems to exist in their own reality, but getting frustrated will not help the situation. Try to do your best to set aside your own emotions for later. Never argue with a confused person. It’s only a road to frustration for both of you.

Music is strongly tied to human memory, and songs can easily help us revisit the past. Even something as simple as maintaining eye contact can help someone feel loved. And allowing someone to feel validated is often no more complicated than giving them your attention while they share.

Respect Is Medicinal

Validation therapy is about insisting on the value of all people, even if they’re disoriented. For many people, simple techniques like these can help to restore a modicum of the dignity taken by the disease. Respect for what you don’t understand may not come easy, but empathy is an excellent foundation for trust.

Date: October 2, 2018

Author: Duncan Gumaer


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