Empathy for Alzheimer’s: The Validation Method

Developed in the 1960s and 1970s, the Validation Method is a holistic therapy for treating Alzheimer’s disease. It focuses on empathy and provides a means for Alzheimer’s patients to communicate. It’s creator, Naomi Feil, offers workshops that teach invaluable techniques for connecting with senior patients, enhancing their dignity and bringing them peace.Empathy for Alzheimer’s: The Validation Method

Learn more about using the validation method for Alzheimer’s.

How the Validation Method Began

The method developed from the experiences of Naomi Feil, a social worker for the elderly who started her career in the 1960s. She grew dissatisfied with common practices in dealing with severely disoriented older adults. So she devised her own method 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 the therapy.

What is the Validation Method?

Validation theory emphasizes empathy and listening. It views Alzheimer’s and dementia patients as unique and worthwhile and as being in the final stages of life. They’re trying to resolve unfinished business so they can die in peace. The caregiver’s job is to offer these individuals a means for expression, verbally or nonverbally.

As ALZWellCaregiverSupport explains, validation is about the older 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 here and now and doesn’t ask why.

Components of the Validation Method

  1. Older people struggle to resolve unfinished issues. To work through these issues, they will express past conflicts in disguised forms; retreat inward, rely on movements instead of words, and potentially shut out the world.
  2. To help them resolve past issues, validation practitioners listen, showing empathy and respect so the person feels valued, not judged.
  3. Validation can apply to an individual’s or a group’s needs.

Diminishing Painful Feelings

If older people can express painful feelings, validation holds that these feelings will diminish. But if these feelings are ignored, the pain will build. The person won’t find peace.

The Validation Method in Practice

Feil offers examples of validation in practice:

The Physician

In one scenario, she describes how a physician might respond to an elderly woman who’s convinced he’s her husband. She asks him to take her home.

Rather than telling her she’s wrong or prescribing medication to reduce anxiety, Validation recommends that the physician match her emotions with empathic statements. These include: “You miss him,” “You were close,” “You want to be back in your house. What would you do there?”

The Caregiver

Another example poses an adult child helping a mother who’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The mother is convinced someone is throwing away her most precious belongings, including photo albums and scrapbooks. But the mother’s actually hiding these things.

Instead of arguing with the mother, the daughter could rephrase the situation, helping her mother reminisce about her youth in a positive light: “Your wedding ring is gone. You think I’ve stolen it?,” “It was a beautiful ring,” “How did you and Dad meet?”

Who Uses Validation?

Caregivers, family members, home health aides, nurses, physicians and social workers, to name a few, can benefit from learning validation techniques. According to Parentgiving, over 10,000 agencies in Australia, Europe, Japan and the United States use the validation method.

Although practitioners warn that it takes time to see changes in behavior, permanent positive changes can result from validation. Depending on the individual, this may mean less crying, pacing or withdrawal; more verbal and nonverbal communication; and a stronger sense of self-worth.

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.

Do you have experience with using the validation method for Alzheimer’s? Share your stories with us in the comments below.

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Please leave your thoughts and comments

  • Jane Moore

    I have practiced validation for a couple of years now with my mother combined with much praise and meaningful activities. You know what? It works!

  • Vicki de Klerk

    great article.

  • Anna Sample

    I wish I had read this article a few years back. My mom just died this past June from Alzheimer’s. If only I could have a do over.

    • caitlinburm

      Anna, we are so very sorry to hear of your loss. Thank you for taking the time to share such a personal story with us… We will be thinking of you and your mother and keeping you both in our hearts and minds during this time.

  • Cathy

    My mother is 90, suffering from Alzheimer and I have learned to put myself in her world and even though 95% of the time, I understand nothing she is trying to say and if I keep trying to guess, she gets frustrated and cries a lot. I try to explain this technique to my siblings, but some just can’t let go of her, as she was. I realize who she was is gone and now try to feel what she must feel. Scared, confused, alone and hold her hand during all visits and comfort her, validating her gestures as I see them. Never argue or dispute. I do realize that this would only upset her and I believe she realizes that she has issues with getting her messages across. Has to be sooo tormenting for those with this disease. Only when she is sleeping, can I look into her face and imagine the Mother I once knew.

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