My mother has dementia….like her mother before her, my beautiful Momma, with her winning smile, has dementia. When it first started and she could remember, she called it her “affliction.” Now, she just knows fear and frustration at trying to communicate her needs. It breaks my heart.
Dealing with people who have dementia is not always easy…it is especially hard when it is your parent. You see, inside each one of us is a three-year old. When we are three, our parents are our heroes: they know everything, they can do everything, and they can fix everything. As they age, it hurts us when we are faced with their physical and mental frailties. We want to FIX them…we want them to be okay….like they were when we were three. The problem is, we cannot fix them. All the correcting, yelling, or reminding will not change the losses they are experiencing as a result of aging. Doing those things only serves to frustrate and demean them. What we CAN do is provide them with love and understanding in a way that gently accepts them where they are.
Probably one of the most effective ways of accomplishing this is by using a communication method called Validation. The basic premise of Validation is changing the focus from FACTS to FEELINGS. This may sound easy and logical, but so often we get caught back in the trap of trying to FIX people, so we revert to insisting that our loved ones with dementia face reality and remember painful facts. Validation really is not complicated and does not require a college degree. It DOES require that we think about things differently. And it does require that we use Empathy (putting ourselves in their place and feeling what they might be feeling) to help us identify the feeling behind the words and the behaviors.
For example, if Mom has forgotten that her parents have died, it would probably not be the most helpful approach to remind her…imagine if you were looking for your parents and someone told you they had died – it would be devastating! Instead, a better response would be to ask Mom if she missed her parents…Were they good parents?…What is an important thing you remember your parents teaching you?
Remember: It is not our job to FIX the disoriented older adult(s) in our lives. It IS our job to LOVE them.
To learn more about Validation Therapy, CLICK HERE.