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Personal grooming can have many benefits for people with dementia, providing you can find a hairdresser or barber who’s up to the job…

Look good and feel good

Appearance really does matter on the dementia journey. Looking smart can boost confidence and self-worth, trigger memories and provide a sense of normality in a world that is growing increasingly confusing. ‘We need to re-think our understanding of appearance and the part it plays in the lives of people with dementia,’ says Richard Ward, a senior lecturer in Dementia Studies at Stirling University. ‘It enhances the identities, self-expression and social participation of people in all stages of the dementia journey,’

The evidence

Researchers at Manchester and Stirling Universities conducted a ten-month research project into the importance of hairdressing on the dementia journey. After interviewing, filming and observing people having their hair done in either a care-based salon or by a mobile hairdresser they concluded that the hairdressing experience can have a profound and positive impact on people with dementia.

• Sensory cures – the smells of shampoos, lotions and hairsprays can be a useful source of reminiscence. Care homes with retro-styled hair salons were particularly successful at triggering memories and conversations.
• The hairdresser – hairdressers often become ‘unofficial therapists’ particularly if they visit regularly and develop a rapport.

Did you know?

Many people with dementia no longer feel part of their community. In fact, research by the Alzheimer’s Society reveals that 28 per cent have given up even getting out of the house. A visit to or from a hairdresser or barber can provide a vital social connection.

Not just for women

Personal grooming is just as important for men as women, but dementia-friendly barbers are even harder to find than hairdressers. In fact, Lenny White is the UK’s only dementia-friendly barber.

His mobile barber shop is pretty special because Lenny doesn’t only take along his tools of the trade, he also takes his old jukebox, so that customers can sing along to all the classics while they have a cut and shave. (Lenny does wet shaves, but with normal razors).

‘The trick is to create the right male environment,’ says Lenny. ‘I pop on the music, get the men all together – no ladies are allowed – it’s a bit of banter, they sing along to Elvis, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra and it’s usually a very relaxing experience. It’s like therapy.

‘If someone gets agitated I stop and talk them through the whole process, show them the tools and remind them who I am,’ says Lenny. ‘But that very rarely happens.’

Lenny, 36, is based in Northern Ireland and visits around 25 nursing homes in the area, also doing home calls. He’s been nominated for a dementia-friendly award and his business is set to expand. ‘There’s a massive need for this kind of service,’ he adds. ‘And I love what I do. To see an old man tapping his feet and smiling with happiness is lovely.’