Naomi Feil believes her validation therapy has made an important difference in the way elderly people are cared for in nursing homes.
"Validating is just listening to people and helping them to die feeling better about themselves and that their lives were worth living," Feil told an audience of about 40 Tonganoxie Nursing Center employees.
Feil explained that when people get older, they start thinking about their lives and what they did right or wrong.
"They are not mentally ill," Feil said. "They are just people who have carried these emotions bottled up inside themselves for 88 years. They've carried around pain, guilt, anger, love and hate. They have never let these feelings show; they kept them bottled up inside. But now these emotions are beginning to come loose."
Anyone who works with confused elderly or Alzheimer's disease patients should not lie to them or try to calm them down, but instead try to live in their time for the moment.
"Just listen to them and walk with them," Feil said. "Understand where they are and go with them. A validation worker does not try to shut people off. Have empathy and let them express their feelings."
If someone is missing his or her mother, a nurse can ask questions about her such as ``What does she look like?" and "What does she cook best?" Feil said.
If someone is yelling and calling you names, you need to stop and center yourself, Feil said.
"You know that old woman isn't talking to you," she said. "You are a symbol. You could be representing her sister. So stop for a moment and center yourself. Remember we're all frail human beings and we can't like everybody.
"It's a simple technique to tell people they are all right."
Feil has been working with older adults since 1963 after she graduated with a master's degree in social work from Columbia University in New York City.
She developed her validation theory through her own practice.
"I found that other methods didn't work at all. Validation helps them express themselves through emotions or words."
Her book, "Validation, the Feil Method," was published in 1982, and a new edition was published last year.
Feil travels across the country giving presentations about her theory before nursing home staff and at conventions.