Using Validation to Communicate with Someone Living with Dementia

March 12, 2020

One of the biggest challenges for those caring for someone living with dementia is maintaining meaningful conversation. People living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia may be living in a completely different time or place than those around them. Additionally, they may not remember what was said just minutes before. This can make meaningful connection challenging. But for those with patience and compassion, it’s still possible to make it happen. As an organization that works to keep those under our care fully engaged in life, it is incumbent on us to learn how to stay connected with our residents.

One of the techniques to reach those living with dementia is called validation. Developed by Naomi Feil, validation is a way to enter the world of the person you’re communicating with. We all like being validated. Having someone tell us that what we’re feeling or thinking has merit or that something we’ve accomplished is worthwhile makes us feel good. This is particularly true for someone living with dementia. These individuals often feel left out or different, so anything that validates their contributions and emotions makes them feel more connected. For instance, if a resident says, “Eisenhower is a great president,” rather than correcting them and bringing them into your world, you could simply respond, “Yes, he’s done some great things.” This validates their current reality and provides a foundation for you to have a conversation.

Trying to bring someone into the “real world” when they aren’t living there can be highly frustrating and upsetting. This is why many experts recommend that you should never “correct” them by forcing them back into “reality.” Below are two examples of a possible conversation between a resident and a caregiver. The first example uses correction, the second uses validation – validating the person’s experience.


Resident: I’ve got to get going. I’ve got to pick up Sarah from dance class.
Caregiver: No, Mrs. Langston, Sarah lives 500 miles away.
Resident: What? That’s ridiculous! She needs to be picked up!
Caregiver: No, she’s fine. She hasn’t been to dance class in more than 20 years.
Resident: No, I’ve got to go! Where are my car keys?
Caregiver: Mrs. Langston, you don’t drive.
Resident: Of course I drive, I’ve been driving for over 60 years!
Caregiver: Why don’t we work on this jigsaw puzzle and everything will be all right.
Resident: All right? It won’t be all right until Sarah’s is picked up from dance class!


Resident: I’ve got to get going, I’ve got to pick up Sarah from dance class.
Caregiver: Oh, is Sarah your daughter?
Resident: Yes, she’s such a bright little girl.
Caregiver: Tell me about her.
Resident: Oh, well, she’s a straight-A student, very popular with all the other students at school, and she sings in the youth choir at church.
Caregiver: What do you two like to do together?
Resident: Oh, Sarah and I love cooking together. She wants to be a chef when she grows up.
Caregiver: Let’s make something right now. How about some chocolate chip cookies?
Resident: Oh my, yes! I love chocolate chip!

By validating their experience, you put them at ease, making it easier to redirect them into a new activity or thought process. Here are some other tips that can help you connect and communicate with residents living with memory loss.

Get their attention

Find a quiet spot to have your conversation. If there’s a TV or radio on, turn it off. Make eye contact and identify yourself.

Reminisce about the past

Because long-term memories may remain intact, sharing memories of past events is a good way to have a conversation that is enjoyable for both of you.

Validate their feelings

If they are upset about something, validate their feelings by telling them you understand and would feel the same way if such a thing were happening to you. Then offer to help them solve the issue. If a resident feels like someone is in their corner and looking out for them, this may allow them to trust you more.

Keep an open heart

Always remember that our residents are dealing with one of the greatest challenges any of us could face. Your willingness to connect with them helps them have a life that is still joyful and full of purpose.

“When we try to argue with or correct someone with dementia, this can cause feelings of Heather Geiersadness, embarrassment, or even anger. Think of how you feel when someone tells you that you are wrong. Our goal with people with dementia is to create meaningful moments and positive feelings as much as possible. Entering their world by validating their emotions and experiences promotes this goal.” – Heather Geier, Kline Galland social worker and dementia care specialist