Why “Validation” “Redirection” and “Distraction” Are OUTDATED in Dementia Care!


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Today’s topic is about why validation, redirection, and distraction are outdated in Dementia Care. 

There’s nothing that I love more than getting in an argument with somebody on LinkedIn. But that’s why I post things on LinkedIn because I want to get a reaction. Because if I have people talking to me, then people know my name anyway. So I posted, of course, something that I knew was going to get at least one person, and it did. So I posted a picture that I drew about how I teach the idea to embracing someone’s reality. So when you embrace their reality, you throw out the word lying and you live in the reality that is true for the person with dementia. And that’s really tough and really new to some people because they’ve always heard validation. And the validation method says you never lie to somebody with dementia.

And I don’t really even quite know how to explain it because I don’t think it makes a lot of sense. So this woman who’s arguing with me was like, well, that I’ve been doing this for 25 years. People always like to throw that in there. When somebody is trying to attack you and you are under 40, they want to tell you that they’re right because you’re a young person. That’s kind of like the thing that I’ve realized. Anyway. So she tells me, well, I’ve been doing this for 25 years it drives me crazy. You never want to lie to somebody with dementia. And I said, well, I mean, I think that’s a really black-and-white way of looking at it. The validation method is super black and white. In dementia care this is gray area. It’s a dance, it’s an art form. You have to be flexible and creative and go into that world. And I have so many examples of this, and she’s like, well, I don’t think you understand validation.

I understand it’s an outdated way to do dementia care. That’s what I understand. I just think it’s so black and white. And you’re saying like, do this, don’t do that. What? That’s so hard to say. And when you’re telling people, professionals, and families, don’t lie to somebody with dementia, I don’t know what the hell that means. What does that mean when somebody’s coming to you and they’re saying, where’s my mom? And you’re like, sounds like you really miss your mom. That doesn’t help them at all.

I actually did that when I first worked in dementia care. I did that to a woman. And she was like, yeah, obviously. Where is she? Right? And it was like a light bulb moment. I didn’t help her at all. I just said something dumb to her in response to her really hard, important question. I was like, oh, forget about your question. I’m just going to repeat a weird statement to you. Like, you don’t do that in normal conversation. Why would you do that with somebody living with dementia? So I told the woman, I said, look, ask somebody if they’re saying, where’s my mom? Say, where do you think your mom is? And then they’re going tell you. And if they say she’s at the store, you’re going to say, okay, it sounds about right. She’s probably at the store. And this woman was like, well, she’s not at the store. I said, yeah, okay. But maybe in that person’s reality, they’re at the store. Oh my God. It’s like if we keep teaching people this black-and-white way to do dementia care, you have a hard time. I watch people’s eyes light up when I talk about embracing their reality because all of a sudden they’re like, oh my God, that makes so much sense. I should have been doing that this whole time. Yes. Right, exactly.

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Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of three published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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