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 Caring.com