Validation Training Institute

VTI Blog

Growing Agitation

By: Fran Bulloff, VTI President

The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed many other evils in the world, much like the mythical box which Pandora opened. Some are new while others have always existed, but perhaps have not been previously acknowledged. While the virus has taken hundreds of thousands of lives, it has hit hardest people of color and impoverished communities, revealing a lack of access to proper nutrition and little or no access to quality health care.  Massive unemployment due to the shutdown has destabilized the world’s economy, but also led to new political rifts between traditional allies and trade partners. As the haves and the have nots face these new and old challenges, it is obvious that they may be in the same storm, but not in the same boat. Added to these other ills are the increasing number of acts of social injustice and institutional hatred. Every day there seems to be a new reason for anger and frustration to surface in society, resulting in a growing sense of agitation.

There is even  a growing distrust between young and old people. The young are impatient to break free of home confinement and return to unrestricted social gatherings, sometimes heedless of health guidelines in place. The old fear new outbreaks of the virus due to reckless behavior, knowing they are affected more severely by the coronavirus than any other age group.  Social divisions are pulling people apart.

Chaos and distrust of authority lead to greater agitation and discord. Recently citizens of Hong Kong were stripped of their rights to protest and speak freely by the Chinese legislature. In the United States and Europe there have been hundreds of protests about police brutality against black people. Some of these protests have escalated into violence, with arson, looting, and vandalism. Military-type police responses such as  firing rubber bullets, using tasers, tear gas and pepper spray, and making unreasonable arrests have antagonized rather than calmed. Curfews (from the Old French “to cover  fire”) are being imposed to disperse and cool off agitators while crews attempt to clean up damaged properties and restore order. Protesters often agitate to promote causes they believe are just or push for social change. They may feel justified in advocating violence when they perceive massive injustice like  war or abuse of authority. Like every human being, they wish to be heard and to feel validated, not brutalized or told to go home.

Agitation is also common in older adults living with memory loss from Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. They can suffer from heightened anxiety which may demonstrate itself in confusion,  disorientation, strange behaviors, and sometimes repetitive motions. Like a washing machine which uses a regular stirring action, severe anxiety can cause a wide variety of  rhythmic motions which replace language such as pacing, pounding, and grabbing.  Caretakers, attempting to control agitation and restore order, may turn to quick fixes like administering sedatives and physical restraints. These methods do not address the underlying causes of anxiety and it quickly reappears. Validation has a different approach to agitation. Validation Principle 5 says, there is a reason behind the behavior of disoriented older adults. Instead of being combative, a trained Validation caregiver is supportive and reassuring, listening carefully and validating the needs and emotions that lie behind the disruptive behavior. Validation also promotes understanding through touch, eye contact, mirroring, tone of voice, music, and other techniques aimed at unifying  rather than dividing. Every life matters; respect and understanding are vital in a free society.