Personal grooming is all the fashion as dementia-trained hairdressers and beauticians help to maintain dignity and self-respect among residents
One of Jenny Twigg’s most memorable clients was a woman in her 90s named Margaret, who liked her hair dyed purple. It was far from just a rinse. The dye came out bright purple, but Twigg remembers that Margaret took it in her stride and her family approved too. “Margaret said, ‘How lovely, darling. I do like to be different.’ Over the following week she basked in the attention as people stopped in her doorway to admire her lovely purple locks.”
Twigg has been cutting older people’s hair for more than 15 years and her company, Lily Pins, is the UK’s only provider of dementia-trained hairdressers. Twigg began doing hair in a care home one day a week before taking on casual shifts as a care worker. “I found it overwhelming at first. I was really naive and just didn’t realise people lived to that age,” she says.
A throwaway comment from a client’s daughter was her lightbulb moment. “The crucial thing was that I was doing both jobs. A relative said to me: ‘I can’t believe my mum let you cut her hair. She normally won’t let anyone near her.’ But it was because of my dementia training as a care worker.”
She began hiring hairdressers, some of whom had also done care work, and there are now 12 Lily Pins hairdressers serving 18 care homes in Kent, Essex, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire. She also employs beauticians and chiropodists.
Twigg believes care homes need to take hairdressing and personal grooming seriously. “It’s all about individuality. People over 80 shouldn’t all look the same. And it’s for the families too. Can you imagine if it was your mum? You wouldn’t want to go in and see them looking completely different.”
A recent study by researchers from the universities of Manchester and Stirling backs up Twigg’s experiences. It found that there could be greater integration of hairdressing and other appearance-related services into the broader therapeutic objectives of dementia care.
The study observed people with dementia in eight different care-based hair salons, as well as accompanying hairdressers on home visits, over a period of 10 months. Salon visits, they found, could provide sensory cues and help reignite memories. Hairdressers often have close relationships with clients and can act as “keepers of stories”, reminding them of forgotten details, as well as offering emotional support.
“The salon is a very natural setting for reminiscing but also a place where people share insights about themselves,” says Richard Ward, senior lecturer in dementia studies at the University of Stirling.
“The overarching message our research highlighted was that we need to rethink our understanding of appearance and the part it plays in the lives of people with dementia.”
Di Moss, one of the Lily Pins hairdressers, agrees that done right, it can be a really positive experience for everyone. “It’s important to try to think about who these people were before the dementia. We really like to speak with families and ask how they used to have their hair done, what they like and don’t like. It’s not just a case of booking an appointment and sitting them down to cut their hair.”
For Moss, communicating with residents is the best part of her job. “It can be hard work but it is so rewarding,” she says. “A lot of residents aren’t able to to speak but sometimes if you get down to their level they might give you a smile or say a little. It’s about giving them the time.”
Maintaining dignity is another reason why personal grooming should be a priority in care settings. The Social Care Institute for Excellence’s (Scie) Dignity in Careguide explains that a person’s appearance is integral to their self-respect.
Elaine Cass, practice development manager for Scie, says personal preferences on haircare, body and facial hair removal, and nail care should be respected. “The most important thing for care home staff to remember is that it depends on personal wishes and preferences,” she says. “If they have always worn makeup, then having their makeup done will be important. It’s about what they want to do because not everything is for everyone.”
Many care homes are now purpose-built with this in mind, like Tye Green Lodgein Essex, which included a salon in its design. The home’s manager, Melanie Kemsley, says: “Families now expect to see services like this in a care homes.”
Kemsley is certain the salon has a positive impact on her residents. “The ladies and gentlemen have their hair done and it makes them feel really good about themselves,” she says. “We all like to be pampered – whether you are living in a care home or your own home, we all like to feel special.”