Our natural reaction is to correct a person with dementia when they say something that is wrong. This is what we do with children. We immediately correct them because this is how they learn.
But a person with dementia has a disease that destroys their ability to remember or think rationally. Correcting their mistakes only frustrates and embarrasses them. They are adults who have feelings.
I encourage caregivers to use “validation therapy,” which is the practice of responding positively to the dementia person’s ideas and beliefs. This empathetic approach was developed by Naomi Feil and described in her book “The Validation Breakthrough.”
When I managed a memory care community, I noticed one of our residents pacing back and forth, murmuring, “Got to plant the corn!” I knew he had been a farmer and that missing planting time was something he could not allow.
I said “Oh, I did not realize it was that time of the year already. I have the supplies in the shed. I will get them so we can get started.” I asked for acknowledgement, got it, and off I went. By the time I walked the building, he had calmed down and was sitting in the lunch room having a snack. His anxiety about planting time had disappeared.
We need to understand that for a person with dementia, anxiety is like a hamster in a wheel, spinning around and around. They need an outside intervention to kick that hamster out of the wheel.
Challenging their “incorrect” beliefs is not the intervention they need. This only makes the hamster run faster. What they need is an empathetic, compassionate intervention that will validate their feelings. If I had argued that he had long since retired from farming and did not need to plant the corn, it could have only increased his anxiety and sense of confusion.
When you reduce their anxiety through validation, you will reduce anxiety in yourself. This is preferable to a pointless battle of realities that never resolves anything. By validating feelings and not arguing about facts, you may find yourself rewarded in many ways that you did not expect.
Until next time remember: “We all deserve the Best”
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