Dementia is a decline in memory and/or intellectual functioning severe enough to interfere with social or occupational functioning. Dementia is not a disease itself, but group of symptoms. It is characterized as a progressive decline in cognitive function due to damage or disease (such as Alzheimer’s) in the brain. Areas particularly affected include: memory, attention, judgment, language and problem solving.
Dementia is condition in which a person loses the ability to think, remember, learn, make decisions and solve problems. Symptoms may also include personality changes and emotional problems. Personality does not change with age in the absence of mental disease.
There are many causes of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, brain cancer, and brain injury. Some Parkinson’s patients experience dementia at later stages of disease progression
Enter Validation Therapy
The idea behind validation therapy is to “validate” or accept the values, beliefs and “reality” of the person suffering from dementia. The key is to “agree” with them, but to also use conversation to get them to do something else without them realizing they are actually being redirected. So, if an 87 year old woman says that she needs a phone to call her grandmother, validation therapy says, “OK.” Here is an example for a caregiver working with someone with dementia in an adult day care:
Older adult: “I have to find my car keys.”
Caregiver: “Your car keys…” ( Don’t mention he doesn’t have a car and he hasn’t driven for years)
Older adult: “Yes, I need to go home – lot’s of work to do!”
Caregiver: “You are busy today?” (Don’t mention he is at adult day care and isn’t going home for hours)
Older adult: “Hell, yes! I’m busy every day.”
Caregiver: “You like being busy?” (Trying to find a topic of conversation that they might accept discussing)
Older adult: “Are your kidding? I didn’t say I LIKED it. I just have to work like the rest of the world.” (He’s getting a little frustrated, but seems to have forgotten about the keys.)
Caregiver: “I know about work. I do some of that myself. In fact, I’m getting ready to fix some lunch for us. Care to join me?”
Older adult: “Lunch, huh? What are you having?”
Why Validation Therapy Works: The Pros
The number one reason why validation therapy works well is because it is not confrontational. Never is a person belittled, yelled at, or told “no.” Remember dementia is a group of symptoms, not a disease. It is easy to misdiagnose. For example, people suffering from UTIs (urinary tract infections) are said to demonstrate characteristics of dementia if the infection goes undetected.
Criticisms of Validation Therapy: The Cons
The biggest criticism of validation therapy is that it promotes lying. These lies weigh heavy on the consciouses of caregivers and family members. For example, validation therapy says that a family member should just accept their aging parent calling them someone else’s name, not correct them. When family stories are switched around, the family is suppose to just listen to the stories as they are told. While there seems to be significant emotional harm to caregivers and family members, very little harm is done to the person with dementia; but isn’t it the well-being of the person with dementia that is most important.
Photo credit: jam343
About the Author: Ryan Malone is the founder of Inside Elder Care and author of the By Families, For Families Guide to Assisted Living. He regularly speaks and advises families about how to improve their aging loved one’s quality of life. Ryan is also the president of SmartBug Media, a content marketing agency that helps companies increase leads, customers and influence. You can read more from Ryan on the SmartBug Media blog or follow him on Twitter.