Using Validation to Connect with Someone Living with Dementia

two elderly women sitting on a couch. One woman has her arms wrapped around the other.


One of the biggest challenges for those caring for someone living with dementia is maintaining meaningful conversation with their loved one. People living with Alzheimer’s or other 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.

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 loved one says, “Jerry’s wedding is today” about someone who’s been divorced for 10 years, rather than correcting them and bringing them into your world, you could simply respond, “Yes, he’s excited. Tell me a little bit about your wedding day.” 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 mother and her son. The first example uses correction, the second uses validation – validating the person’s experience.


Mother: I’ve got to get going, I’ve got to take Jimmy to swim practice.
Jimmy: Mom, I’m right here, you don’t have to take my anywhere.
Mother: No, swim practice ends at 4:00!
Jimmy: No, Mom, swim practice ended 30 years ago. I’m right here!
Mother: No, I’ve got to go! Where are my car keys?
Jimmy: Mom, you don’t drive.
Mother: Of course I drive, I’ve been driving for over 60 years!
Jimmy: No, Mom, let’s do a jigsaw puzzle and everything will be all right.
Mother: All right? It won’t be all right until Jimmy’s is picked up from swim practice!


Mother: I’ve got to get going, I’ve got to take Jimmy to swim practice.
Jimmy: Oh, is Jimmy your son?
Mother: Yes, he’s such a bright little boy.
Jimmy: Tell me about him.
Mother: Oh, well, he’s a straight-A student, very popular with all the other students at school, and sings in the youth choir at church.
Jimmy: What do you two like to do together?
Mother: Oh, Jimmy and I love cooking together. He wants to be a chef when he grows up.
Jimmy: Let’s make something right now. How about chocolate chip cookies.
Mother: 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 someone you love.

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 loved one 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 your loved one is 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.

Categories: Alzheimer's Disease