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Validation Therapy for Dementia

Written by OurParents Staff
 about the author
7 minute readLast updated February 5, 2024

Validation therapy is a holistic approach to caring for seniors with dementia. It focuses on listening to them and supporting them as their condition progresses. This therapy teaches you how to be patient and watchful, so you can better understand what your parents are going through. This approach can also help you make sense of certain behaviors related to Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Talking to your aging parents using validation therapy can help lower their stress, boost their dignity, and even make them happier.

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Validation therapy definition and history

Validation therapy provides seniors with empathetic communication opportunities that focus on understanding and accepting their experiences and emotions rather than correcting or dismissing them. This approach promotes a sense of dignity, reduces anxiety, and enhances their overall quality of life.
The validation therapy method was created by Naomi Feil, a Munich native who grew up in a family home for seniors in Ohio. As a young adult, she decided to work with the aging population after receiving her degree in social work from Columbia University. Her experience growing up with older adults, coupled with her social work education, led her to believe she could help seniors with Alzheimer’s.
In 1982, Feil published a book called Validation: The Feil Method that outlined the purpose of the validation method and explained how caregivers can use it to care for their elderly loved ones.[01]

What is validation therapy, and how does it work?

According to Feil, at a certain point, older adults begin trying to resolve unfinished business so they can pass away in peace. As a caregiver, your job is to help them share their thoughts and feelings during this time. This can be accomplished through dementia validation therapy, which emphasizes empathy and listening above all else. It challenges traditional views and asks caregivers to treat Alzheimer’s and dementia patients as worthwhile.
The following are the key ideas of validation therapy, as discussed in Feil’s second book, The Validation Breakthrough:
  1. Treat every person as special and different.
  2. People are important, no matter how confused they may seem.
  3. There’s always a reason why older adults who are disoriented act the way they do.
  4. The way older adults act isn’t just because of changes in their brains. It’s also about changes in their body, who they’re with, and how they feel.
  5. You can’t make older adults exhibiting dementia behaviors change how they act. They’ll change only if they want to.
  6. It’s important to accept older adults as they are without making judgments.
  7. Each part of life has its own challenges. Not finishing these challenges can cause problems later.
  8. When recent memories fade, older adults might think back to old memories. They use their mind to “see” or “hear” when their eyes or ears don’t work as well.
  9. When older adults talk about their feelings, and someone listens, those feelings often get less painful. If they don’t talk about them, the feelings can get worse.
  10. Being empathetic can build trust, make your loved ones less anxious, and help them feel respected.

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Validation therapy examples and best practices

Validation therapy is a respectful and empathetic way to connect with people who have dementia. Instead of trying to correct their perceptions of reality, it’s more helpful and positive to step into their world. This approach builds empathy, trust, and a sense of safety and can also help reduce their anxiety.
The examples below explain how validation therapy can be used effectively when interacting with your loved one.

Caregivers and validation therapy

As a caregiver, you can use validation therapy for dementia in everyday life. For example, if your loved one believes someone is throwing away their precious belongings, such as old jewelry and photo albums — when in reality they’re hiding these items — you might respond in this way:
  • “Your wedding ring is gone. You think I’ve stolen it?”
  • “It was a beautiful ring…”
  • “How did you and Dad meet?”

Physicians and validation therapy

Physicians use validation therapy to talk to and comfort older adults rather than saying they’re wrong if they’re suffering from hallucinations or confusion. Instead of prescribing medications to reduce anxiety, the doctor can instead have meaningful conversations discussing what your loved one is experiencing by matching emotions through empathetic statements.
For example, if your loved one thinks the physician is her husband who passed away and she wants him to take her to their home, the physician might respond in this manner:
  • “You miss him…”
  • “You want to be back in your house.”
  • “What would you do there?”
By having a meaningful conversation, the physician can get a glimpse into the patient’s reasoning and can soothe her by having a comforting conversation.

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Benefits of validation therapy

Using validation therapy for your loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia is a powerful way to show you care. It’s all about truly understanding their feelings and treating them with respect. This approach helps your parent feel heard and valued, which can make them more comfortable and improve their self-esteem.
Here are some positive changes you may see with validation therapy:
  • They sit up straighter and keep their eyes open more.
  • They show more social behavior.
  • They cry, pace, and get upset less often.
  • They express less anger.
  • There’s less need for medicines or restraints to keep them calm.
  • They communicate more, both with words and without.
  • They move better and more frequently.
  • They experience less anxiety.
  • They withdraw less from others.
  • Their sense of self-worth improves.
  • They take on familiar social roles in groups.
  • They become more aware of their surroundings.
  • Their sense of humor returns.
  • The progression of their condition slows down.
  • Caregiver morale increases and burnout decreases.
  • Caregivers feel more fulfilled and capable of managing difficult situations.
  • Family members visit more often.
By showing empathy and respect, you can help your loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia feel listened to and supported. They can regain their dignity and, ideally, feel a greater sense of peace in their final stage of life.


  1. Validation Training Institute. (2023). What is Validation?

Meet the Author
OurParents Staff

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