Humans are social beings: “The human is a cultural being. We are an interdependent species and have a dynamic network of relationships with other people.” According to this article by Jens Rinnelt.
This article also cites a number of references of Abraham Maslow who created the well known hierarchy of needs, a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualization. Maslow, also argued strongly that self actualization was a deep urge: “”What a man can be, he must be.”
Tom Kitwood, building upon Maslow’s ideas, pioneered person-centered care for the aging population, especially those with dementia. His approach advocated for a non-institutionalized and non-medical method of caring for individuals living with dementia, focusing on interpersonal exchanges, communication, and let’s not forget it, fun!
In the context of the lives of the Old-Old and individuals with dementia, the Validation Method emerges as an essential approach. Validation teaches us how to empathetically listen and ask questions that allow those with memory loss to fully express their concerns and frustrations. Such conversations reduce anxiety and often lead to resolution and renewed engagement with others.
They essentially help anyone in a formal or informal caregiver position support someone else – ultimately helping them reach actualization.
The basic Validation principles have remained unchanged since Naomi Feil founded the method:
- All elderly individuals are unique and valuable.
- Accept disoriented elders as they are; avoid trying to change them.
- Listening with empathy fosters trust, reduces anxiety, and restores dignity.
- Painful feelings expressed, acknowledged, and validated by a trusted listener will diminish, while those ignored or suppressed will intensify.
- There is a reason behind the behavior of very elderly adults with cognitive losses.
- Basic human needs underlie behavior in disoriented elderly people, including resolving unfinished issues, finding peace, restoring equilibrium, seeking recognition and self-worth, fulfilling social and sensory needs, and reducing pain and discomfort.
- Early learned behaviors resurface when verbal ability and recent memory decline.
- Disoriented elderly use personal symbols in the present that evoke emotional connections from the past.
- Disoriented elders operate on multiple levels of awareness, often simultaneously.
- When the five senses fail, disoriented elderly rely on their ‘inner senses’ to recall memories and sensations.
- Events and stimuli trigger emotions similar to past experiences, causing elders to react as they did in the past.
Through these insights, one can recognize that the skills learned in Validation are essential for anyone in a caregiver role and contribute to personal growth and becoming a better human.
I have had that personal experience multiple times:
I was lucky enough to be trained in the Validation Method as a Validation Worker Level 1 with the newly developed course in 2014. I also had the unique experience of see Naomi Feil and her daughter Vicki de KlerkRubin at the recent 2023 CFI conference. During this session, there were signs of different emotions including laughter, surprise and even tears. In the end, most of us learned and actually became better humans thanks to Validation.
Considering the current challenges in senior living staffing, investing in, developing, and retaining the workforce becomes crucial. The senior living industry revolves around people helping people, especially the elders, making it imperative to train and develop the workforce to become better human caregivers.
In conclusion, the Validation Method is a powerful tool that not only enhances our understanding of human behavior but also helps us become better, more compassionate humans in caring for our elders and one another.