Forty years ago, Volunteers of America committed to serving the care needs of increasing numbers of aging persons. In those early years, best practice was to use “reality orientation” as a means to bring the impaired person out of memories into the here and now. This accepted practice had caregivers telling those suffering with dementia in their care such things as, “No, you can’t see your husband now. Remember? He passed away five years ago. You live here with us now.” This approach was not only ineffective, but it almost always elevated frustration and emotional distress. Naomi Feil, the developer of Validation, a method for communicating with severely disoriented, “old-old” people, saw the need for a new approach.
Feil is the executive director of the Validation Training Institute and a popular speaker in North America, Europe and Asia. After graduating with a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University, she began working with the elderly. She published her first book, “Validation: The Feil Method,” in 1982 and another book, “The Validation Breakthrough,” in 2002.
“My group work as a field instructor with what I then called ‘disoriented old people’ led me to discover that old-old people used people in present time to represent people in their past,” said Feil. “This is how they get out the many emotions they have kept inside. And with each person in my group, as I got to know each individual better, I gradually developed an understanding for why they did what they did in this elder stage of life.”
The Validation method trains professional and personal caregivers who interact with confused older adults. The Validation Specialist tunes into the person’s inner world by helping him or her to restore the past, reliving good times and resolving past conflicts. Feil explained why communicating with people with dementia is both life-changing and a moral imperative.
“My philosophy is that as human beings, we are connected to each other,” Feil said. “There is a humanity that binds us together that has nothing to do with religion or race or culture. When people get very old, they go back to this basic humanity, and you can reach that person on an emotional level.”
Feil believes that if the elder is left all alone and there is no connection with another human being, the elder will deteriorate, withdraw and become “a living dead person.” Validation enables us to understand what the elder, who no longer has the power of speech, needs to express in order to move on in peace.
Many of the Volunteers of America caregiving specialists are attuned to the importance of finding better ways to serve those suffering with dementia. Feil’s Validation model of care complements Volunteers of America’s commitment to serving those in need with dignity and respect.
“This is an exciting time for Volunteers of America as the Validation method is going to forever change the delivery of care for our clients with dementia,” said Dave Nilson, a Volunteers of America professional caregiver. “As an Authorized Validation Organization, we will be able to educate our professionals in the field, while growing and expanding our ability to provide the best care possible for a growing number of cognitively impaired adults in our own facilities across the country.”
The integrating of the Validation method into Volunteers of America’s current programs for elder care also advances our Aging with Options™ initiative. This initiative recognizes that with today’s advancements in healthcare and special emphasis on preventive care, older Americans are experiencing a future of better health and longevity.
“If you’re all alone, you feel worthless,” said Feil. “Deep down inside you have to recreate your identity all by yourself…through movements, through self gratification; but if someone enters into your world, and you look at them, and you communicate with them, there is a wholeness that comes about; there is a relief; there is a feeling ‘I am wanted! I am needed! I am complete!’ There’s completeness when two human beings really care about each other. And I feel that when I connect with an old person. It gives me energy. It makes me feel ‘Wow, I am a real human being and I feel good about myself.’ And it makes that other person feel the same way.”