Empathy for Alzheimer's: The Validation Method

Jennifer Wegerer
By Jennifer WegererMarch 11, 2019

Last Updated: March 11, 2019

Developed in the 1960s and 1970s to treat Alzheimer’s disease, the Validation Method is a holistic therapy that focuses on empathy and provides a means for people with the disease to communicate. Its creator, Naomi Feil, offers workshops that teach invaluable techniques for connecting with loved ones with Alzheimer’s, enhancing their dignity and bringing them peace.

Learn more about using the Validation Method for Alzheimer’s.

How the Validation Method Began

Naomi Feil, a social worker for the elderly who began her career in the 1960s, developed the Validation Method after she grew dissatisfied with common practices in dealing with seniors with Alzheimer’s. 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.

Validation theory emphasizes empathy and listening. It views people with Alzheimer’s 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.

The Validation Method in Practice

Feil offers examples of validation in practice:

1. The caregiver.

An 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, an adult child could rephrase the situation, helping his or 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?”

2. 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 prescribing medication to reduce anxiety and telling her she’s wrong, the Validation Method 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?”

Who Uses the Validation Method?

Caregivers, family members, home health aides, nurses, physicians and social workers, to name a few, can benefit from learning validation techniques. 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 nonverbal and verbal communication; and a stronger sense of self-worth.

Through empathy and respect, validation practitioners help people with Alzheimer’s 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? We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.

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Jennifer Wegerer

Jennifer Wegerer

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