Understanding the Art and Science of Caregiving
News What we expect from life’s stages is often what we read, research and hear. But there is one life stage perhaps we don’t see coming and aren't prepared for.
One in 9 Americans over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s, equating to millions of people who do their best to help care for them. Just as expectant parents devote energy to researching techniques that support child development, let’s apply the same rigor to thoughtful adult caregiving approaches. In my field, I rely on the Validation Method.
Here’s how it works. Take “Joe,” who I first met when learning about Validation. Joe was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and pounded the table while repeatedly shouting, “I’m cold!” I ran to get his sweater and asked his caregiver to serve him hot tea, but this did not ease him. Naomi Feil, developer of Validation, suggested I ask Joe where he felt cold, because he might be expressing a deeper emotion.
The next time Joe shouted, I asked this very question. Joe put his hands over his heart, and through additional questioning, he responded, “I miss my wife.”
Many caregivers instinctively try to reorient those they are caring for to reality, which can potentially worsen the situation and cause anxiety. With Joe, I learned to look beyond his words and actions to focus on what he may be feeling. Validation helped me understand that Joe was communicating his basic human need for security and love.
"Don’t worry about reality or trying to redirect a loved one if they are disoriented, instead ask open questions to help them freely express their emotions."
By inquiring more about Joe and fully opening myself to his emotions, I learned he provided end of life care for his wife. This insight revealed his actions were communicating his loss of purpose. By validating what a good husband Joe was, his shouting and pounding eventually stopped.
I realize caregiving is much more complex than this one example and not every attempt to validate will result in such a dramatic change. But I’ve studied and applied the Validation Method countless times, and believe it can be an effective technique to rebuild lines of communication and reduce stress for both the caregiver and person with memory loss.
Before you communicate with a loved one, try centering yourself by taking a few deep breaths. Don’t worry about reality or trying to redirect a loved one if they are disoriented, instead ask open questions to help them freely express their emotions. These techniques will help you be more open and responsive to your loved one and address their basic human needs: to be heard, to feel loved and to have a sense of purpose.
Many may feel that once a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, they’ll lose the ability to connect with them, but through Feil’s work we know there is an art and science to effectively communicate. It is a method that restores the perceived “lost” connection, and shows us that even though memory loss may have profoundly changed our loved ones, they are still present.