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Naomi Feil: A Revolutionary in Dementia Care

Updated: Jan 29


By Oran Aviv


Last month the world lost one of the greatest pioneers in the field of gerontology and dementia care, Naomi Feil.

 

Naomi inspired others to see the humanity in every person, regardless of their cognitive abilities and she dedicated her life to developing the Validation Method, a revolutionary approach that transformed the way we connect with and care for individuals with dementia.

 

I’m dedicating this week’s blog post, to this unique and special human being, Naomi Feil.


Naomi Feil and Gladys Wilson

Sometimes, if you are fortunate, the stars align and guide you to your true passion. That's precisely what happened to me after discovering the now-famous video of Naomi Feil validating Gladys Wilson. A little over ten years ago, I stumbled upon this footage online and instantly knew I had to learn this method.

 

Little did I realize back then that my eagerness to learn this technique would evolve into years of study and practice of Naomi Feil's Validation method. Not only did I become a certified validation teacher, but understanding and connecting to people who are living with dementia, became the focal point of my life's work.

 

Gladys Wilson, non-verbal and with her eyes closed in a nursing home, was often overlooked by staff who assumed she was unresponsive and unaware of her surroundings. Naomi, employing empathy and her Validation Techniques, successfully connected with Gladys. In this video clip, we witness what Naomi aptly calls the Validation Breakthrough.

 


 

It's essential to recognize that establishing such a profound connection with another human being requires training and practice. While some may interpret the clip as merely allowing someone to complete the words of a song, Naomi Feil's Validation Method goes beyond that. Naomi immerses herself in the other person's world to feel their emotions at the moment and respond accordingly.

 

If you, too, were moved by this clip and wish to learn Naomi Feil's Validation Method, please check out the Validation Online Training scheduled to begin in March 2024. Details below.

 


Naomi Feil, the Revolutionary

 If you had studied for years and learned from the top teachers in your field, would you ever have thought they were wrong and sought your own approach to a problem? I'm sure there are very few of us who would have considered doing this, but Naomi Feil did.

 

Naomi earned her first degree in psychology and then her master’s degree in social work. Naomi began working at a nursing home and used the following techniques she learned for working with individuals with cognitive impairment:

 

Reality Orientation:

A technique used to remind individuals of factual information, such as time, place, and personal details, to enhance their awareness of reality.

 

Redirection:

Guiding an individual's attention away from a potentially distressing or inappropriate focus towards a more positive or suitable one.

 

Diversion:

Intentionally changing the focus of attention to a different, often enjoyable, activity or topic to prevent or alleviate challenging behaviors.

 

Therapeutic Lie:

Providing false information or reassurance to individuals in a compassionate manner to reduce anxiety or confusion and maintain emotional well-being.

 

Naomi used all these techniques she was taught but soon realized that these traditional methods were only temporary solutions for the older adults she worked with—they didn't help in the long term.

 

Despite facing resistance and hostility from management and staff who deemed her methods radical, Naomi discovered that by truly listening and genuinely caring, one could connect with older individuals. She faced the threat of job loss and disparaging remarks at work, such as "She's as crazy as them."

 

Undeterred, Naomi persevered and developed her Validation Method which does not include any of the aforementioned techniques. Her determination to create a more empathetic and person-centered approach to care has had a lasting impact on the field of gerontology.Meeting Naomi Feil

 


Meeting Naomi Feil

I feel incredibly fortunate to have visited Naomi at her home in Oregon just a few months before she received a diagnosis of terminal cancer. For me, meeting Naomi was akin to having the chance to meet my favorite rockstar—it was an honor to be in her presence.

 

During our time together, Naomi shared many stories about her life, including those of her early childhood in Germany. She vividly recalled the fear of having to hide before her family escaped to the US and spoke about family and friends who didn't escape and were killed by the Nazis.

 

While I had read and seen recordings of Naomi sharing her stories of growing up in the Montefiore Nursing home, where the older residents were her friends, hearing her describe, in person at age 91, the events of her youth with such detail and emotion as if they happened only yesterday revealed how much her childhood experiences contributed to the development of her Validation Method.

 

Naomi recounted how, when the nurses went away in the evening, she and one of the residents, Mrs. Lew, would sneak out and have sodas at the local pharmacy. Naomi cherished these outings with her friend and learned much from Mrs. Lew, who had been a buyer for a very fancy clothing store. Naomi spoke fondly of Mrs. Lew, describing her as a prestigious lady whom she admired greatly.

 

One day, during their soda outing, Naomi heard the nurse yell, "There she is," and two policemen came and took Mrs. Lew away. Naomi explained that when she saw Mrs. Lew a few days later, she wasn't recognizable—her eyes were glazed over, and she walked like a robot. They had subjected Mrs. Lew to shock treatment, and she was never the same.

 

You can view this video clip of Naomi talking about Mrs. Lew.



 Naomi's unique childhood, living with her parents in a senior home, instilled in her a deep compassion for the feelings of older individuals. As a result, emotive empathy forms the foundation of Naomi Feil's Validation Method. You can read more about how Naomi Feil’s unique life contributed to her development of the Validation Method in our previous blog post: Naomi Feil Founder of the Validation Method


 

Naomi Feil’s Memorial

 Naomi Feil had discussed with her family the songs she wished to be played at her funeral, desiring an atmosphere of joy rather than sadness.

 

One of the songs she requested for her memorial was "Making Whoopee," an unexpected choice for such an occasion. Naomi enjoyed this song and she even sang it joyfully during a recent recorded interview with her daughter, Vicki.

 

Naomi's son Eddie reflected on his mother's brief time in the area, noting that more people greeted her in town than him, despite his many years of residence.

 

Ken, Naomi’s other son, explained how his mother’s life's work would endure through the Validation Training Institute. Drawing a parallel to Auntie Mame, he emphasized his mother's credo: "Life is like a banquet, and most poor son-of-a-bitches are starving to death."

 

Beth, Naomi’s daughter, expressed how their mother bestowed upon them the gifts of empathy and a drive to contribute to making the world a better place. Naomi instilled in them the philosophy of living life to the fullest.

 

Vicki, Naomi’s oldest daughter who is also the executive director of the Validation Training Institute, shared that even though Naomi was not a conventional mother, “she was still a chicken soup mother… of course, that soup came out of a can.“ Vicki also shared how Validation positively transformed her own life and the lives of thousands around the world. 

 

  • You can view the memorial to Naomi Feil here:

  •  Additionally, messages dedicated to Naomi can be found on this site.




 

Naomi’s Last Wishes

 After receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis, Naomi sent out the following letter to the Validation Community:

 

I have some bad news to share with you. I have been diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic cancer and the doctors tell me I have less than six months to live. I am at home receiving palliative care, surrounded by family and excellent caregivers.

 

My greatest wish now, as it has been for the past 50 years, is that everyone keep using Validation, spreading Validation, teaching Validation – so that older adults around the world feel heard, respected and gain self-esteem.

 

Thank you for carrying on my life’s work.

 


 Following her diagnosis, Naomi Feil participated in a series of interviews with her daughter Vicki DeKlerk, who is also the director of the VTI (Validation Training Institute). In these interviews, Naomi shared insights about end-of-life, surprisingly, with humor and while singing songs.

 

In her final interview, just 12 days before her passing, it was important for Naomi to hear about the happenings at the Validation Training Institute.  Naomi was pleased to hear about our Validation Practical Training that we would begin teaching together in March. That was touching for both Nancy and me.

 

This is just a minute section of the clip where Naomi hears about the training and that Nancy and I are teaching it. I am teary eyed every time I watch this. I was so touched.


 

You can view the full interview here  

and all the other interviews on Naomi’s memorial page 

 

I teared up realizing that this was the last interview with Naomi, and both Nancy and I were part of it.

 

Naomi needed to know that her work would continue. The wonderful messages she received from around the world, expressing the importance of her work, and hearing about how her teachings would persist through the VTI, allowed Naomi to die in peace in her final days—something she strived for throughout her life, through her Validation Method, to help older adults achieve too.

 

Naomi, may you rest in peace, knowing that you have left an indelible mark on the hearts of all those you have touched, and your life's work will continue through all of us in the Validation Community.

 

Help carry forward Naomi Feil’s Legacy by learning Validation and becoming a part of the global Validation community. Together we can continue transforming the way we connect with and care for individuals living with dementia.

   ---

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Please contact us if you would like to arrange a Hands-on Dementia and/or Validation workshop for the staff at your staff: oran.handsondementia@gmail.com

Our videos for self-care and tips for caregivers

Check out our workshops and webinars: 👉🏼 Feb. 1, 2024 we are giving a free webinar on Naomi Feil's Validation Methos https://www.hands-ondementia.com/event-details/free-webinar-naomi-feils-validation-method-2

Ask your questions in our new Facebook Group:

 

We are so excited to announce that we will be teaching Practical Validation Training online through The Validation Training Institute.


20-hour training over 5 Zoom sessions Date & Time

March 4, 11, 18, April 1 & 8, 2024

8AM PST | 11AM EST | 16:00 GMT | 17:00 CET | 18:00 EET20 hour training * Participants in the course will receive an official Certificate of Completion at the end of the course signed by Validation Training Institute Executive Director Vicki de Klerk-Rubin. 

 

Hands-on Dementia for Caregivers Book.  In blue with a photo of one set of hands  givine had reflexoogy to another hand.

Would you like to learn our Hands-on Dementia method at your own pace?

You can learn how to use simplified hand reflexology to help and connect with your loved one who is living with dementia as well as use it for your self-care.


Hands-On Dementia for Caregivers,

A step-by-step guide to learn 3 reflex points to help your loved one and yourself.


Our eBook includes video clips for self-learning. Get it now while it is still on sale!

https://www.hands-ondementia.com/copy-of-ebook-1










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