Navigating the Journey: The Importance of Validation in Dementia Care, Inspired by Gladys Wilson

Published by Alison Watson-Shields on

In the realm of dementia care, one woman’s story has become a poignant reminder of the significance of validation in providing compassionate and effective support. Gladys Wilson’s journey sheds light on the emotional landscape of individuals living with dementia and the valuable lessons it offers to caregivers. In this article, we will explore the concept of validation in dementia care and offer practical advice on responding to the common expression, “I want to go home.”

Understanding Validation in Dementia Care:

Validation is a person-centred approach that acknowledges and accepts the emotions and reality of the individual with dementia. It involves validating their feelings, experiences, and expressions, even if they do not align with objective reality. Gladys Wilson, whose story gained attention through the “Alive Inside” documentary, demonstrated the power of validation through music therapy, showing how a personalised and empathetic response can bring joy and connection to individuals with dementia.

Why Validation Matters:

  1. Preserving Dignity: Validation helps preserve the dignity of individuals with dementia by respecting their emotions and experiences. It fosters a sense of worth and identity, even as cognitive abilities decline.
  2. Improved Communication: By validating the emotions expressed by those with dementia, caregivers can establish better communication and build trust. This connection is crucial for maintaining a positive relationship and reducing feelings of confusion or frustration.
  3. Emotional Wellbeing: Validation contributes to the emotional well-being of individuals with dementia, promoting a sense of security and comfort. It can reduce anxiety and agitation, creating a more peaceful environment.

Responding to “I Want to Go Home”:

The phrase “I want to go home” is a common expression among individuals with dementia, even when they are in their familiar surroundings. In order to validate and acknowledge that you heard what the individual has said, try responding by matching their tone and words saying something like, “You want to home?”

To respond with empathy and validation, consider exploring the following questions:

  1. “Where is Home?”
    • Ask the individual where they think home is. This question can offer insights into their emotional state and the memories or feelings associated with the concept of home.
    • Respond empathetically, saying, “You want to go home. What does ‘home’ look like to you?”
  2. “What is at Home?”
    • Encourage the person to share what they associate with home. This could be specific people, objects, or activities that hold sentimental value.
    • Validate their feelings by saying, “I can see that ‘home’ is important to you. Can you tell me more about what you have at home that makes it special?”
  3. “Who is at Home?”
    • Explore the people they associate with home. This question can reveal the importance of relationships and connections in their memories.
    • Show understanding, saying, “It sounds like there are special people at home. Can you tell me more about who is at home and why they matter to you?”

These responses can be quite wordy, if you can keep your responses brief then do. Use reflection when responding by repeating the words used by the person you are with and matching their tone. Understand and recognise changes in tone and body language and try to remain empathic.

Here are some strategies for responding with empathy and validation:

  1. Acknowledge Emotions: Rather than focusing on the literal meaning of “home,” acknowledge the emotions behind the statement. Respond with empathy, saying, “It sounds like you’re feeling a bit unsettled. Can you tell me more about what ‘home’ means to you?”
  2. Provide Reassurance: Offer comfort and reassurance by expressing understanding and support. Reassure them that they are safe and cared for, saying, “I can see that ‘home’ is important to you. We are here to make sure you feel comfortable and secure.”
  3. Distraction and Redirection: Gently redirect their attention to a positive or engaging activity. This can help shift their focus away from the desire to go home. For example, suggest looking at a photo album together or listening to familiar music.
  4. Create a Familiar Environment: Surround the individual with familiar objects and sensory cues that evoke positive memories. This can provide a sense of familiarity and reduce feelings of disorientation.

Gladys Wilson’s journey emphasizes the profound impact of validation in dementia care. By addressing the questions surrounding the concept of “home,” caregivers can deepen their understanding and connection with individuals experiencing dementia. Responding with empathy to expressions like “I want to go home” opens the door to meaningful conversations, allowing for a more enriching and supportive caregiving experience. In embracing validation, caregivers can provide comfort, foster connection, and enhance the well-being of those on the challenging journey of dementia.

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