Providing Compassionate Dementia Care With Validation Therapy

A lot of knowledge and effort goes into caring for a loved one with dementia. There are many different strategies and approaches to make your loved one feel as safe and happy as possible. One of these approaches is validation therapy.

What Is Validation Therapy?

Validation therapy is an approach to working with dementia patients that puts empathy and listening first. Those with dementia often feel confused and disoriented and while it can be easy to argue with them about the way that they perceive the world, validation therapy suggests that you don’t.

In validation therapy, you don’t try to pull the dementia patient into your reality, but, instead, you enter theirs. Even if you don’t necessarily agree with what they’re saying, it’s important to validate them and respect their views. Validation therapy is more focused on the emotional aspects that conversation can provide instead of whether they are factually correct or not.

This method of communication can often prevent more argumentative and agitated behavior in dementia patients, as they often feel more heard, respected, and acknowledged rather than frustrated about being dismissed.

In addition, it’s important in validation therapy to attempt to understand the underlying cause behind their words or actions and how they are true for the person with dementia.

These are the core principles of validation therapy:

  • All people with dementia are unique and worthwhile. 
  • Maloriented and disoriented people with dementia should be accepted as they are; we should not try to change them. 
  • Listening with empathy builds trust, reduces anxiety, and restores dignity. 
  • Painful feelings that are expressed, acknowledged, and validated by a trusted listener will diminish. Painful feelings that are ignored or suppressed will gain in strength. 
  • There is a reason behind the behavior of maloriented and disoriented people with dementia. 
  • The reasons that underline the behavior of maloriented or disoriented people with dementia can be one or more of a multitude of basic human needs, including everything from the need to die in peace to the need for sensory stimulation. 
  • Early learned behaviors return when verbal ability and recent memory fail. 
  • Personal symbols used by maloriented or disoriented people with dementia are people or things in the present that represent people, things, or concepts from the past that are laden with emotion. 
  • When the five senses fail, maloriented and disoriented people with dementia will stimulate and use their “inner senses.”
  • Events, emotions, colors, sounds, smells, tastes, and images create emotions, which in turn trigger similar emotions experienced in the past. People with dementia react in the present time the same way they did in the past. 

History of the Validation Therapy Approach

The Validation Method was first created by Naomi Feil, the founder of the Validation Training Institute. She was raised among older people with her father being an administrator of a nursing home and her mother as a leader of the social services department. She became determined to revolutionize the field of elder care.

In 1982, she published “Validation: The Feil Method.” Since then, she and her husband traveled the world to share the Validation Method through workshops and educational events. 

How to Use Validation Therapy With Your Loved One

Caregivers and doctors often use validation therapy with their patients. But you can also apply it to your interactions with your loved ones with dementia. 

1. Center Yourself

When your loved one’s perception of reality is not aligned with yours, typically your first instinct is to correct them. Make sure to take a deep breath and think carefully about how you want to respond

2. Observe

Observe your loved one and look for clues about how they’re feeling and their mental state. Try to be empathetic and keep their emotions in mind as you respond to them. 

3. Use a Respectful Tone of Voice and Eye Contact

Both of these practices prove that you respect and acknowledge them, as well as build trust so that they know they can trust you with what they’re telling you. 

4. Find an Appropriate Distance

Gauge how close your loved one is comfortable with you being and try not to distance yourself too much, as it can block good communication. 

5. Ask Questions

Ask questions to validate what your loved one is saying. For example, if they’re asking about someone who is no longer in their life, ask them about the memories they have about that person or if they miss them. Reminisce about their memories. Acknowledge that what they’re feeling is valid and empathize with them. Help them work through the emotions that are brought up. 

6. Rephrase

Rephrase your loved one’s feeling back to them. If they are discussing missing someone, rephrase what they’re saying to validate their feelings, like, “You must really miss this person.” 

Dementia Care at Terra Vista of Oakbrook Terrace

Caring for a loved one with dementia or Alzheimers can be extremely challenging. That’s why Terra Vista is an assisted living facility specifically designed for those who are in need of memory care. We want to give your loved one a team of trusted specialists that are on both their side and your side. 

If you’d like to learn more, call us today at 630-793-0753 or request a consultation on our website.

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Meet the Author


Natalie has compiled over eighteen years experience providing outstanding care to people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. In addition to being a certified Alzheimer’s and dementia care trainer, McFarland is a licensed continued education instructor for nurses and social workers through the Illinois Department of Professional Regulations. She has also developed several Alzheimer’s research partnerships. Included in those projects were Dr. Virginia Cruz, Ph.D., RN, Associate Professor of SIUE and Dr. George Grossberg, M.D., Medical Director of the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at Saint Louis University. Natalie is a graduate of Southern Illinois University.