One of the most difficult aspects of dementia care is that, in its later stages, it robs the person of their memory. It often causes the person to lose their sense of what is real and what is not real. The individual’s family and friends who don’t know how to react to their loved one’s hallucinations, delusions, and odd flights of imagination may feel sad or frightened. It is common to ask if you should remind your loved one that they have dementia and that what they are imagining, seeing, or hearing is not real.
In one article, author Carol Bradley Bursack writes “Most people’s initial reactions to an off-the-wall remark are to refute or correct it. Years ago, this kind of “reorientation” was widely accepted, but the downfall is that it only works on individuals who are capable of rational thinking”…”[they] can become agitated or upset when their concept of reality is challenged.” Today we understand that the kindest and respectful way to respond to the person with dementia is with both validation and reassurance.
Validation Therapy for Dementia Care
Validation Therapy acknowledges and accepts the “irrational perceptions of reality” often experienced by those with dementia. It avoids trying to correct someone who is convinced of the rightness of their own perceptions. Instead, this approach acknowledges and validates the individual’s experience of reality. This can help the person with dementia feel normal and reduce or even eliminate confusion and agitation. Validation is also a powerful gift to the individual’s loved ones. By accepting the person’s new reality, caregivers free themselves of the need to cure or change them. Often, this is the reality as we know it, the person living with dementia may not understand. It is an act of love to let go of the need to control their thinking. Instead, just go along for the ride.
The author continues to explain that this technique “…helps reduce stress, improve communication, reinforce self-esteem and infuse dignity into dementia care. It increases patients’ happiness because they aren’t continually being told that they are wrong and confused by truths that they cannot understand.”
There are times when distraction and redirection are necessary. This is particularly true when the person with dementia develops a belief that they or someone they love is in danger. In such cases, it is not wise to agree with the delusion that someone is out to harm them. A better approach is to validate their feelings and reassure them that they are safe and cared for. A person with dementia, for example, may believe that someone is trying to break into their home. A loved one or caregiver might walk them around the house checking the locks on the doors and windows. After that, they can be distracted by a fun activity.
Isn’t Validation Simply Lying to Our Elders?
Some people may feel that “validating” a person’s delusions is lying to them and treating them like a child. This is particularly true for spouses who may feel that it is being disrespectful. It may be hard to see that the person you love has changed. It may chip away at any self-esteem they have managed to retain throughout the course of this disease. The disease changes how the brain works and processes information. It creates warped perceptions that they cannot differentiate from “true” reality. A caregiver’s commitment to honesty and accuracy may come from a good place. It can, however, be demeaning and even cruel for a client or family member to endure.
It’s natural to mourn the loss of a parent, friend, spouse, or partner when dementia causes them to lose the ability to interact with us the way they once could. Caregivers can lock themselves out of their loved one’s world or they can learn to accept and even participate in their new reality. By going along for the ride, you may discover a new way of relating and bring back value to a once “lost” relationship.
Interested in learning how our trained caregivers can help with dementia care? See our Dementia/Alzheimer’s Care services here.
Is Using Validation for Dementia Calming or Condescending?