The Power of Self-Worth: Validation Therapy for Memory Loss

A sense of self-worth is vital for anyone to experience a full life. When we feel respected and accepted as we are, we are able to be at peace with ourselves and those around us. There’s no more struggle to justify who we are, or urgency to rectify our past mistakes. When we know we are worthy of love and care, we are free to be at ease with our inner selves. These are the ideas that created what is known in caregiving as the validation method.

“Validation therapy is so important for seniors with later-stage memory loss because they are often treated as less than they believe they should be,” says Diane Reier, Lifestyle Specialist at Aspired Living® of Prospect Heights, a senior living community in Prospect Heights, IL. “People with dementia are often talked down to, reprimanded for behaviors beyond their control, and left to deal with the confusing reality inside their own heads with few outlets for communicating. Even when these things happen unintentionally, the affects they have on the person’s sense of self-worth are damaging.”

The validation method and validation therapy work to remedy the decrease in self-worth experienced by those with memory loss. Through practicing genuine empathy, caregivers can enter a person’s reality, accept them where they are and show them that they still matter.

What Is Validation Therapy?

The validation method was developed by social worker Naomi Feil in the early 1980s. While working with seniors with cognitive decline, Feil became disappointed with the common practices of dealing with disoriented older adults. She witnessed as their social and emotional needs were frequently dismissed, and saw the consequences of such neglect. She saw the human being underneath the memory loss, one who was hungry for the love, attention and understanding from others that their disease had taken away from them.

The validation method views seniors with memory loss as special and worthwhile during the final stages of their disease. At its core, validation therapy is a communication method that reaches beyond just the person’s immediate physical needs. Successful validation therapy helps the person feel worthwhile throughout a disease that deteriorates much what they used to judge themselves as worthy.

Main Components of Validation Therapy

Validation therapy rests on the belief that there is always a reason for person’s behavior. A loved one with memory loss is not repeating themselves for the sake of repetition – they are doing so because it’s necessary in their own reality. According to an interview with Naomi Feil with the Validation Training Institute, Inc., there are three basic human needs that determine much of the behaviors those with memory loss express.

  1. Humans have the need to feel love, nurturing and security.
  2. Humans have the need to feel useful and respected for their work.
  3. Humans have the need to express their emotions and have someone truly listen.

So, for example, a woman who claims she’s hungry immediately after breakfast may be hungry for something other than food: love or attention. She might be hungering for quality company, but the only way she knows how to ask for it is for more breakfast. A caregiver who recognizes this human need can enter this woman’s reality and help to give her what she truly needs to be fulfilled.

Many times, Feil suggests, seniors in the later stages of memory loss experience a great deal of emotional pain from not having an outlet for their emotions. Their disease makes it difficult to communicate verbally, and too often their caregivers don’t know how to give them the emotional outlet they require. Validation therapy suggests that once they can express themselves, their pain will decrease.

Putting Validation Therapy into Practice

Exercising validation therapy in your caregiving is different from other therapies like pet therapy or music therapy. There aren’t specific activities you can facilitate. Instead, validation is an intentional approach to every interaction you have with a person with memory loss. It requires extreme empathy.

Empathy means being able to recognize and understand what another person is feeling. Being empathetic to a person with memory loss requires accepting the person where they are, eliminating judgment by understanding their behaviors have a reason, and truly listening to them, even if they can’t speak. A person with advanced memory loss is still a human being with the desire to be treated as such, with all the communication, interaction, respect and love that comes with the human experience. It takes empathy and the willingness to listen and enter their reality in order to validate their existence and give them back their sense of self-worth.

The benefits of validation therapy are remarkable when it’s practiced regularly. Although it takes time, Feil shares that seniors who are validated feel safe, experience less anxiety and stress and have a lesser need for medications. People who shut themselves inside begin to talk again. They begin to sing if they can’t talk. They feel empowered to get up and walk, even though they’ve been sedentary for a long time.

Caregivers feel the benefits, too. They experience much less stress. They have tools they can use to communicate with the person, leading to a much more rewarding caregiving experience. And, they can feel as though they are making a huge difference in the person’s daily life by allowing them to feel appreciated and worthwhile.

Putting Seniors First

“At Aspired Living® of Prospect Heights,” says Reier, “our care team understands the unique challenges and needs of seniors with memory loss. We recognize that, despite their disease, they maintain the basic needs that we all share. We offer our memory care residents the emotional outlets they need to feel worthwhile, while caring for their physical ailments as well. In order to do this, we’re very selective in our hiring process, ensuring that our team is filled with compassionate, highly trained caregivers with a heart for our residents.”

If you would like to know more about validation therapy or memory care at Aspired Living® of Prospect Heights, don’t hesitate to contact our team for more information.

We Would Love to Hear from You!

If you have comments or questions about our blog, we’d love to hear from you. We also welcome you to share any caregiving insights or experiences in our comments section.

Live Well. Age Well. Be Well.

Offering Independent, Assisted Living and A Knew Day Memory Support, Aspired Living® of Prospect Heights is a distinctive senior living community designed to offer seniors residing in the Chicago Northwest Suburbs area a fresh alternative to “typical” senior living communities.

Aspired Living® of Prospect Heights provides residents with the ideal balance of personalized support, dignified privacy and enhanced independence complemented by luxurious amenities and our life-enriching, award-winning VIVA!SM programming by Pathway to Living®.

Managed by Pathway to Living®, an innovator in senior living, Aspired Living® offers the choice of a private studio or a one- or two-bedroom apartment and the beauty of a brand new community, stunningly appointed and decorated for unsurpassed comfort and style by the award-winning senior living design firm, Thoma-Holec Design, Inc.

For more information, please call Diane at 847-243-6920.

Disclaimer: The articles and tip sheets on this website are offered by Aspired Living® of Prospect Heights for general informational and educational purposes and do not constitute legal or medical advice. For legal or medical advice, please contact your attorney or physician