Dementia Care: Validation Therapy

As humans we crave positive connection, we are designed to care about our community and desire the care of our community. Validation is a key factor in human communication, it boosts positive feedback for desired behavior and acts as a verbal treat for doing socially desirable things. It acts in contrast to rejection, which degrades negative behavior to communicate community acceptable guidelines. Validation makes us feel good both biologically as it stimulates the part of our brain which boosts our happy chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine, as well as socially as it helps us understand desirable community behavior through positive feedback. This communication strategy is designed to create a harmonious community, where people understand desirable behaviors. For a neurotypical person, this feedback is helpful as it makes them feel understood and accepted by their community. This feeling of community support does not disappear when someone develops neuroatypical conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Communicating with someone who thinks and acts differently than you are used to can be challenging, especially if you do not understand the mental state of someone with dementia. However, loved ones and caregivers can use validation and positive feedback to foster desirable behaviors. Validation therapy supports this strategy of positive feedback.

Validation therapy supports communicating with people in a way that acknowledges their words and actions with positive emotions like respect and empathy, rather than negative emotions such as anger, embarrassment, or dismissiveness. The theory behind validation therapy is that people who are moderate to severely affected by dementia, are driven by their survival needs and find it difficult to communicate those needs. These needs are universal to the human experience; wanting to be safe, cared for, loved, and have a meaningful purpose. By utilizing validation therapy, loved ones and caregivers can support people with dementia in their communication regarding their needs. Active listening is pivotal to this process. By listening with intention and empathy you will be able to respond in a loving manner which will validate the person with dementia. Active listening can foster an understanding between you and your loved one regardless of the variance between your mental states.

While not all medical providers may subscribe to the ideology of validation therapy, those who do state that it improves the lives of people with dementia as it builds communication and empathy. By actively listening to your loved ones, you will minimize their feeling of isolation and being misunderstood. these feelings can be scary and frustrating for someone who is already navigating the world in a challenging way. By listening and acknowledging their feelings, you can avoid unnecessary conflicts which stem from their feelings of anger and disrespect. Validation therapy will support people with dementia to be less withdrawn, more emotionally resilient, and could even slow the mental deterioration of their condition.

By navigating negative emotions and conflict with active listening and empathy, you may see improvements in your loved one with dementia’s mental state. This improvement can also reduce stress and anxiety on primary caregivers as it minimizes unnecessary arguments. Validation therapy and active listening can help primary caregivers and close family build understanding around some subconscious or underlying issue that is contributing to negative or anxious behavior.

Validation strategies

  • Connect through soft eye contact.
  • Clear calm communication.
  • Maintain your peace, avoid arguing with them.
  • Focus on what they are saying and their behavior – there may be context clues for what they are struggling with.
  • Keep it simple – only ask for basic facts.
  • Try and pivot the conversation to a positive memory they have that is related to what they are saying.

Maintaining a clear calm communication style will do wonders for building validation and ease with your loved one with dementia. This may not always be easy as it is normal to respond to negative behavior with rejection behavior such as dismissing their feelings or diminishing the situation. However, this rejection behavior will only foster more anger and unease in your loved one. Try and set your feelings aside in that moment and stay calm to set the tone for the conversation. You can always address your feelings later with trusted friends or a therapist. But your loved one will mimic your energy so if you are feeling angry and embarrassed at their behavior so will they which will only exacerbate the problem. Keeping it positive and mindful will keep them calm in those moments of frustration. Connect with your loved one’s doctor if you would like to explore validation therapy and need expert advice. And if validation therapy is something you would like to explore, contacting a home care services company would be helpful as they would have the expertise and training to address therapies for the elderly and people with dementia conditions.

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