Validation is a method of communicating with and helping disoriented very old people. It is a practical way of working that helps reduce stress, enhance dignity and increase happiness. Validation is built on an empathetic attitude and a holistic view of individuals. When one can "step into the shoes" of another human being and "see through their eyes," one can step into the world of disoriented old people and understand the meaning of their sometimes bizarre behavior. Validation theory explains that many very old disoriented people, who are often diagnosed as having Alzheimer type dementia, are in the final stage of life, trying to resolve unfinished issues in order to die in peace. Their final struggle is important and we, as caregivers, can help them.

Some essentials of validation are:

  • we address people in a respectful way and treat each person as an individual
  • we do not try to change the person's behavior; we accept it and try to help the individual fulfill the needs that are being expressed
  • we empathize with the feelings of the older person without concentrating on the "truth' of the facts
  • we are open to all feelings that are expressed by the person. Through empathy we share these feelings and encourage expression. We acknowledge that disoriented people freely express emotions in order to heal themselves
  • although we do not always know why the person behaves in a certain way, we help him or her express emotions to resolve unfinished business
  • we calibrate the breathing, movements, gestures, body tension, mirror movements and sounds.

That allows us to get onto the same wavelength as the old person and meet them where they are in that moment, even if we can't explain their behavior logically when older people see or hear things that we do not, we accept those as being part of their personal reality and understand that they are trying to meet their human needs



Compared with gentle teaching

There are many similarities between validation and gentle teaching and the ‘techniques’ used in validation to make contact with the person can also be used in gentle teaching. The major difference is that gentle teaching focuses more on the relationship and the need to feel safe and loved. This is a deeper level of human contact than following the flow of the emotions and the expressions of the person. We understand that dementia is an ongoing process and that there may come a moment when the person is completely turned inward and is hardly expressing anymore. This may be due to a lack of energy or maybe because all memories of the past have gone. Then we only have the 'here and now' and communication through hearing and seeing has no meaning anymore. There only is the communication of being together and feeling the presence of each other. By focusing on the feeling of companionship, together of making contact using the techniques of validation, we prepare the person and ourselves to this moment.