THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN IN 2015 BUT WAS UPDATED ON 6/22/2021
Please welcome guest writer Carolyn Ridland to The Diary of an Alzheimer’s Caregiver.
Hello. My name is Carolyn Ridland, and I am the founder of CaregiverConnection.
About 10 years ago, my parents began reaching the point where they could not be self-sufficient anymore. I was just married with two toddlers, so I felt like I couldn’t take them in, yet I wanted to make sure they were taken care of.
I want to share my story, and let you know that you are not alone if you are in a similar position. Children are expected to take care of their elderly parents when the time comes, but it’s not always that easy.
Caregiver Connection emerged from a place of real love and compassion. We understand the struggle that exists when you care deeply about your loved ones, but you’re faced with decisions you never wanted to make. Our main message is that nobody should have to face these times alone.
If you have a loved one who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, you will need to show him the right responses to his feelings and actions. Since this is your first time encountering this problem, you will not know how to properly respond to whatever he will say or do that is out of the ordinary. You will need to know the right strategies to implement to show him that you are empathizing and understanding what he is going through.
This is why you will need to use validation therapy – a well-researched technique that can effectively help people with Alzheimer’s. Validation therapy will enable them to keep their dignity intact and preserve their quality of life. You will need to learn about its details and how it can help your loved one navigate this difficult phase in his life.
The Nature Of Validation Therapy
The medical community considers validation therapy as a type of nursing intervention. The healthcare provider communicates with the patient with Alzheimer’s through therapy. Focus is given to the patient’s emotions instead of the reality of his situation. The rationale for this approach is that if the patient’s emotional connection to objects and concepts are rightly managed, the difficult situation stemming from his illness will be diffused.
This method of therapy intervention was developed as a means of communicating with the elderly and disoriented people. It was Naomi Feil, an M.S.W., and A.C.S.W. who developed this form of intervention therapy between 1963 and 1980. She developed this strategy out of her dissatisfaction with the traditional methods of intervention which did not produce the desired results in her clients.
But Does Validation Therapy Really Works?
There are those who believe that validation therapy really works since it is not focusing on the patient’s bad behavior which appears to be illogical and irrational especially if you are just observing the actions of the patient. Instead, this strategy concentrates on what is actually happening at present without asking why it happened. Proponents of this strategy believe that this could help in bringing closure to the difficult situation and encourage healing while helping the patient maintain their dignity and respect.
Who Are Using Validation Therapy
Validation therapy uses a multi-step process that really works and it is still being used today to effectively treat patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Based on the records of the Validation Training Institute, more than 10,000 mental healthcare facilities in the world are using validation therapy. It seems that this is commonly used by caregivers and family members of patients as well.
Mental healthcare professionals are using this strategy in a clinical setting where they aim to build security and trust with their patients by empathizing with what they are undergoing. Instead of contradicting the beliefs of the elderly, especially if they are already experiencing hallucinations, the therapist using VT enters the world of the patient and conducts a more meaningful communication. This often results in the Alzheimer’s patient requiring fewer medications which are only made possible by a better and sharper understanding of his emotional state.
Healthcare providers, as well as family members, can use this strategy with their loved ones afflicted with Alzheimer’s every day so that their communication will be more beneficial to both parties. For instance, their loved one with this illness may believe that their precious trinkets are being stolen. But the truth of the matter is that they are just moving or hiding them. Instead of contradicting the patient, the caregiver or the family members could use validation therapy and say:
“Your necklace is gone. Do you think that I have taken it?”
“It really was a pretty necklace.”
“How did you meet Mom?”
The three responses can be used as prompts that can encourage a conversation or communication where the caregiver or family member can listen, and then show his empathy and finally get to the root cause of the issue.
The Typical Steps Used In Validation Therapy
Naomi Feil has written a book entitled “The Validation Breakthrough” in which she outlined the 10 driving principles of this technique. The goal is to get a better understanding of the feelings, mental state, and condition of the Alzheimer’s patient. These are the steps that Feil has developed.
1. Be calm and centered
If the patient is having a tantrum, don’t immediately rush in to offer your help. Don’t react to his actions. Be calm and focused. It is very important for you to take a moment to think and get yourself emotionally and mentally prepared to go through the necessary steps that will help the patient and still treat him with respect and dignity.
2. Talk to find out the real problem
Start talking to the patient asking him what he thinks is wrong. Listen without judging. For instance, if your 90-year old father is crying out for his mother, don’t tell him that she is already long gone. Get to the root of his problem and once you have done that, remember and reminisce with him. Discuss happy memories with your loved one and let him express his emotions concerning the person or thing that is causing his tantrums.
3. Probe more
In the conversation, the patient may remember certain things or he may require gentle reminders. You can ask probing questions. If your elderly father misses his mother, ask him what is it that he is missing the missing most. This could induce his emotional healing.
4. Express the same emotions to empathize
Your patient will feel that you are empathizing with him if you will express the same emotions that he is feeling. Accept their emotions and try to express the same feelings.
5. Say it in your own words and repeat
Your loved one will know that you understand him if you will say with your own words what he just said. This will show them that you fully understand what he is saying.
6. Ask questions that include the senses
If the condition of your loved one is more advanced, you may need to ask more probing questions. Questions that include the senses such as smell, taste, and touch may help jog his memories and help him recall sensory experiences.