Validating our loved ones who no longer connect with words​

man person portrait old
Photo by omar alnahi on

Receiving validation from others, no matter the form, can have a powerful effect on all of us.  Validation lets us know we’ve been heard and that our feelings are important. In both giving and receiving, it can provide our interactions with others with a strong foundation for communication and a better opportunity for a peaceful resolution. Validation transcends the need for spoken communication and targets the human need to have our emotions heard.

Validation is a great communication technique and a key tool to use with our loved ones living with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Their speech may be impaired, but that does not mean they stop communicating with us in other ways.  And when we use validation, we first try our very best to focus on the emotion they are feeling in that moment and not the words they are trying to use.

1. Listen to the tone in their voice.

At first, identifying their exact emotion may be difficult so a good starting point may be too narrow it down to a few emotions. Are they sad, anxious, or afraid? Or are they happy, excited, or playful?

To do this, we may need to ask a few questions or engage in a bit more conversation. You can say, “I can see you are upset, can I help?” this validates that we recognize something is wrong and that we are there for them.

We should then give them an opportunity to express themselves even if the words they use don’t make sense to us. As they finish, we can validate their feelings by saying, “You have every right to be upset.” or “I can see how that can be upsetting.” And if it feels appropriate to redirect the conversation, “How about we go for a walk and get something to drink? I think you deserve to relax for a bit.”

2. Mirror your facial expression to theirs!!

A furrowed brow or a worried looked can say a thousand words.  We may not know what they are worried about, but we can see that they are obviously upset.

In these moments, we should mirror their expression, so if they have a furrowed brow so should we, and if they are smiling, we smile right back! Mirroring their facial expression sends an unspoken validation that you understand how they are feeling.

3. The importance of touch.

A piece of validation therapy is being engaged. If they are pacing back and forth or if they have their hands clenched together there may be something wrong. Try rubbing their back or holding their hand as they are speaking to you or as they pace and always keep eye contact.

It can be extremely frustrating to watch as our loved ones struggle to communicate, but we should always allow them to try. They still have feelings that are worth listening to and this technique allows our loved ones to know that they’ve been heard and understood.

Validation Therapy was founded by Naomi Feil. In the video below, she demonstrates how important validation therapy can be to a person living with dementia.


For more on Validation and Redirection read Validation and Redirection Therapy for Dementia from

2 thoughts on “Validating our loved ones who no longer connect with words​

  1. Wow, I loved this! Thank you! Just beautiful. Hadn’t heard of Naomi Feil or her work but it’s truly important for people with end-stage dementia – and this is the stage people generally turn their love-ones over to care facilities. I am one of those health professionals. I also see whole families with end-stage nervous breakdown at this point too. I would love to see this therapy or care behaviour more main stream. Thank you for writing about it. It’s given me some real thought as I prepare for my own blogging. All the best, Kirsty Porter

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Kristy!! I am so glad this piece resonated with you. It is true frontline staff often become the primary caregivers for our elderly. I’ve seen how tiring the work can be especially when we are only a few staff caring for a growing number of seniors. Validation therapy is a fantastic tool to use for our residents who may be feeling especially sad or anxious and in my experience creates an even deeper and meaningful bond between us. I would love to hear more of your experiences. Thank you, Molly


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s