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ROB FOUNTAIN/STAFF PHOTO Naomi Feil talks about communicating with people diagnosed with Alzheimer's-type dementia during a seminar in The Adirondack Room at the Butcher Block in Plattsburgh. The program offers validation therapy training for health care providers.

PLATTSBURGH — Though they may seem bizarre to others, Naomi Feil believes the words and actions of elderly individuals with Alzheimer’s-type dementia hold deep meaning.

“There’s always a reason that people do what they do,” said the developer of validation therapy, an alternative method for working with elderly who are severely disoriented.

The best way to discover those reasons and help such people find resolve, she told the Press-Republican, is to keep them communicating on some level.

“It’s a self-healing model,” said Feil, the founder and director and chief of the Validation Training Institute, which offers workshops and courses on her techniques throughout the world.

REACHING OUT

Meadowbrook Healthcare Administrator Paul Richards had the opportunity to observe her teachings several years ago and recently decided it was time to educate his current staff on validation therapy.

Feil, who received her master’s degree in social work from Columbia University, agreed to come to Plattsburgh, where she conducted two training seminars on dementia care: one for Meadowbrook employees and another for other members of the local health-care community.

Richards said that with people now living into their 90s and 100s, age-related diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s are becoming more common. However, he continued, the traditional methods used to care for such patients, such as behavior modification and what’s known as the “therapeutic lie,” have proven ineffective.

“We need to reach out and do a better job of trying to communicate with people with these types of diseases,” Richards told the Press-Republican.

DON’T ARGUE

Feil teaches that such people often use symbols to represent unresolved issues from their past.

For example, a woman suffering from dementia might accuse her caregiver of stealing her wedding ring, she said, but perhaps what the woman is really trying to express is sorrow over the loss of her youth and the life she once led.

It’s a mistake to ignore the woman’s statements or argue with her about them, Feil explained, because that will only encourage her to stop communicating and keep her feelings inside, causing pain.

LISTEN, VALIDATE

Instead, she continued, it’s helpful to acknowledge her emotions, ask questions and listen with empathy.

“If you listen with empathy, people feel better,” Feil said.

Another mistake, she continued, is to lie.

If a patient asks to see her mother who has died, Feil noted, telling her she will come visit later is no more helpful than insisting her mother is dead.

“You never lie to the person because deep down, people know the truth,” she said.

However, encouraging the patient to express her feelings about her mother, the loss of whom she may not have properly grieved, can be therapeutic, according to Feil.

“The big goal is that the people do not become so medicated and they don’t become living-dead people,” she said.

TALK CREATED BUZZ

Meadowbrook staff received Feil’s messages “wholeheartedly,” according to Richards and immediately began to see how her insights related to some of their current residents.

“They were buzzing over how effective it was, how valuable it was,” he said.

The facility plans to move forward with training employees in validation therapy, he continued, and intends to use it to determine the needs of residents and help them find resolution through communication.

The hope, Richards added, is that Meadowbrook will one day become certified in the method and help spread the word about Feil’s approach, which the United States has been slow to adopt.

Still, he noted, validation therapy has been very effective in other countries throughout the world, and implementing it at Meadowbrook will not only benefit staff but improve the quality of life of residents, as well.

“In the past, we would restrain people physically and chemically, so we’re trying to move away from that approach ... we need to move with this type of communication approach.”

Email Ashleigh Livingston:alivingston@pressrepublican.com

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TO LEARN MORE

For more information about Feil and the Validation Training Institute, visit vfvalidation.org. Her books and DVDs about validation therapy are available at edwardfeilproductions.com.

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