Using Validation Therapy for Seniors With Dementia

Using Validation Therapy for Seniors With Dementia

Coping with a loved one who experiences dementia can present significant difficulties. As their perception of reality becomes more bewildering, it is common for frustration to escalate into feelings of anxiety and restlessness. 

However, there exists a communication method known as validation therapy that can assist in bridging the divide and establishing a serene and empathetic atmosphere, helping you understand what is the best way to care for the elderly at home[1]. Let’s take a closer look together!

What Is Validation Therapy?

Consider a scenario where a beloved individual persistently expresses the desire to return home, despite already being in their own residence. In conventional care, one may attempt to rectify the situation by stating, "No, Mom, you are currently residing with us." 

Conversely, validation therapy for dementia adopts an alternative perspective. It centers around acknowledging their emotions and the current circumstances they are perceiving. You might say, "It sounds like you're feeling a bit lost, honey. Can I help you find something comfortable to sit in?"

What is Validation Therapy Used For?

The main question here is, what is validation therapy used for? Validation therapy is predominantly employed for people with dementia, specifically during the advanced stages[2], to afford them a sense of being acknowledged, esteemed, and reducing feelings of social isolation and loneliness among seniors[3]

By acknowledging and affirming their emotions, caregivers and family members have the ability to:

  • Reduce anxiety and agitation
  • Improve communication and interaction
  • Lessen feelings of isolation
  • Promote a sense of calm and well-being

How Is Validation Therapy Used in Dementia Care?

Validation therapy for dementia does not focus on engaging in arguments or attempting to correct them, but rather on immersing oneself in their reality and comprehending their point of view. 

This is the practical implementation of how it operates:

  • Center yourself: Inhale deeply and regulate your own emotions. It is impossible to provide validation if you are experiencing feelings of frustration or impatience.
  • Active listening: Engage in active listening by closely focusing on both verbal and non-verbal[4] cues. What underlying emotions could be concealed?
  • Reflect their feelings: Instead of saying, "There's nothing wrong," acknowledge their emotions. "It sounds like you're feeling scared, is that right?"
  • Reminisce: Engage in conversation when they are reminiscing about the past. Inquire about their memories and the elements that brought them joy during that time.
  • Use simple, clear language: Refrain from intricate sentence structures and unfamiliar vocabulary. Maintain a calm and measured speaking pace[5].

How Effective Is Validation Therapy?

Due to the limited number of extensive studies conducted on the validation method, it remains challenging to make conclusive statements about its effectiveness. 

Nevertheless, numerous caregivers have shared favorable accounts regarding their experiences with this approach. When employed alongside other strategies, it can serve as a valuable asset in your arsenal of dementia care techniques.

Validation Therapy vs Reality Therapy

Validation therapy and reality therapy can occasionally be mistaken for one another, however, there exists a fundamental distinction. 

Reality therapy[6] primarily centers on aiding individuals in adapting to their present circumstances, whereas validation therapy focuses on validating and empathizing with the person's emotions and experiences. 

On top of that, validation therapy accepts their current reality, even if it's different from yours.

Who Created Validation Therapy?

Naomi Feil, a psychotherapist who specialized in working with elderly individuals struggling with emotional distress, developed validation therapy after observing in the 1960s that conventional therapeutic methods frequently left these individuals feeling disregarded and exasperated. She devised validation therapy as a means of establishing a profound connection with individuals.

What Are Some Validation Therapy Techniques?

Below are a few distinct methods that can be applied in conjunction with validation therapy:

  • Validation: Validation forms the foundation of this approach, as it involves recognizing and embracing their emotions, even if you may not comprehend them fully.
  • Simple validation: "You seem upset" or "It sounds like you're feeling frustrated."
  • Empathic validation: It entails delving further and acknowledging the underlying emotion conveyed by their statements. "It sounds like you miss your old home. That must be hard."
  • Leveling: Acknowledge and empathize with their emotional state, whether it be anger, without attempting to downplay or diminish its significance.

And remember! You can use all these techniques while adding some activities for seniors[7] to stimulate movement and brain activity!

Principles of Validation Theory

Validation theory relies on several fundamental principles:

  • Irrespective of age or cognitive capabilities, every individual deserves to be treated with honor and dignity.
  • Dementia-related behaviors[8] are a way of communicating unmet needs and emotions.
  • By acknowledging and affirming these emotions, we can assist in reducing anxiety and establishing a peaceful atmosphere.

Applying Validation Therapy Techniques

Below are several specific scenarios in which validation therapy techniques can be applied:

  • Establishing a Connection: If an individual with dementia appears to be socially distant, consider providing them with a gentle touch or a familiar item. Engage in conversations about topics that bring them joy, even if they may not directly relate to the current situation.
  • Communication Strategies: When faced with repetitive statements[9] or inquiries, avoid becoming frustrated. Instead, acknowledge their emotions and provide reassurance. “It appears that you are seeking a specific object. Is there any way I can assist you in finding it?” You may also use dementia toys[10] to make them feel more comfortable. 
  • Problem-solving and Coping Mechanisms: When individuals experience feelings of anxiety or agitation[11], attempt to pinpoint the root cause of their discomfort. Provide options and redirect their focus whenever feasible.

That said, it is important to explain that one of the most important aspects of this journey is learning how to act beforehand, so it is critical to know how to prevent memory loss in old age[12] to avoid further confusion for your loved one.


By understanding what is validation therapy used for and prioritizing qualities such as empathy, acceptance, and comprehension, one can establish a tranquil and nurturing setting for their beloved family member. The following considerations should also be taken into account:

  • Be patient: Having patience is essential when it comes to mastering validation therapy techniques, as it requires both time and practice. It's important to remain resilient and avoid discouragement, even if immediate results are not seen.
  • Seek support: Engage in a support group or consult with a therapist who specializes in dementia care. They can provide valuable advice and motivation.
  • Ensure your well-being: Tending to a person with dementia can be taxing. Be sure to allocate time for engaging in self-care practices that aid in relaxation and rejuvenation.

Keep in mind that you will have companionship throughout this endeavor. Through the use of validation therapy and additional supportive strategies, you can bring about a favorable impact on the well-being of your loved one with dementia!


What's the main idea of validation therapy?

Imagine you're talking to someone who's lost and scared. Instead of saying, "No, you're fine," validation therapy helps you understand their fear and offer comfort. It's about accepting their reality, even if it's different from yours, and helping them feel heard and respected.

What are the 4 stages of validation therapy?

Actually, the stages of validation therapy focus on the emotional progression of someone with dementia, not necessarily steps in the therapy itself. These stages can include things like feeling abandoned, angry, or needing validation of their past. Therapists trained in validation therapy learn to recognize these stages and respond accordingly.

What is validation therapy for dementia patients?

Dementia can be really confusing, and people with dementia often express their emotions in ways that might seem strange. Validation therapy is a way to connect with them on a deeper level, even if they can't quite explain what's bothering them. It helps them feel less alone and anxious and creates a calmer environment for everyone.

What's an example of validation therapy?

Let's say your dad with dementia keeps insisting he needs to go home, even though he's in his own home. Instead of arguing, you might say, "It sounds like you're feeling a little lost, Dad. Can I get you something comfortable to sit in?" This acknowledges his feelings and offers reassurance, even though you know he's not going anywhere.

What are the benefits of validation therapy?

There are many benefits to using validation therapy with someone who has dementia. It can help them feel less anxious and agitated, improve communication, and make them feel more secure. It can also make them feel more like they're being listened to and understood, which is important for everyone.

What does validation therapy seek to do?

Validation therapy doesn't try to change someone's reality or force them to remember things they can't. Instead, it aims to create a more peaceful and supportive environment by building trust and understanding. It shows the person with dementia that their feelings matter, even if they seem illogical to us.


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About The Author

Mary Anne Roberto, the co-founder of Always Home Connected is a dedicated CNA and a Certified Positive Approach To Care Consultant (Teepa Snow), specializing in dementia care.  Her goal is to create awareness about those experiencing cognitive changes and to provide caregivers with resources and tools that are necessary to help alleviate some of the challenges caregivers face on a day-to-day basis.