Kathy Rovine is a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Therapist (CTRS) and Coordinator of the Memory Fitness Center, a program of the Muller Institute at Abington Hospital. Kathy has worked in the field of Geriatrics for over 35 years, in a variety of settings.
A method for communicating with older adults has been developed by Naomi Feil, ACSW. This technique, called “validation” is based on an attitude of respect and empathy for older adults with dementia. Validation offers a confused, disoriented person an empathetic listener, who accepts his or her view of reality. This in turn leads to a feeling of trust, decreased anxiety and an increased sense of self-worth. A validating caregiver is sensitive to the logic and feelings behind the disorientation of an older family member. By responding to the feelings rather than the words of an older family member, we offer acceptance and reassurance- both of which are comforting and promote feelings of self-esteem and serenity. For example, consider a restless older woman who wanders through the house looking for her husband, who in fact is no longer living. Rather than explain about his death- this would surely cause grief and probably not be remembered- respond to the feelings, the fact that the older adult misses her husband and wants to see him. By saying, “I know you would be very happy to see John tonight”, you are acknowledging feelings in an honest and empathetic manner. As a result, your older family member feels understood, and, in most cases, will move on to other thoughts, no longer focused on a need to find her husband. This technique, even in this simplistic example, is extremely effective. As the caregiver, you are not compromising your own sense of values by agreeing that John is alive, nor are you confronting your older family member with an unpleasant truth, that John is not alive. Rather, you are hearing the thoughts behind the words and responding to them in a positive way- this is a win/win technique. This method is discussed in detail in Naomi Feil’s book The Validation Breakthrough, published by Health Professions Press.
Communication is at the heart of our lives; communication with older family members can enhance the quality of their lives and of ours. Please do not hold yourself to standards of perfection; by doing the best you can each day you are giving an invaluable gift to all in your family, and to yourself.
Abington Hospital Jefferson Health sponsors several monthly support groups in various locations for family caregivers; many members of the support group are families of participants, but the group is open to anyone in the community, and is not limited to those caring for someone with dementia, although that is the primary reason caregivers come. The support groups are free to join. Anyone interested in joining a group is welcome to reach out to Kathy for more information.
Kathy Rovine, Coordinator of the Memory Fitness Center at Abington Hospital may be reached at 215-441-6888 or Katherine.Rovine@jefferson.edu.