Jan 23, 2018

Barber for Dementia: How One Man Brings the Barbershop to Aged Care

For people living in aged care, the main priority for the staff and their loved ones is the resident’s health and safety.

But as a part of their well being, there needs to be some focus on the resident’s dignity and their appearance.

Sometimes something as little as a haircut can make all the difference.

This is what Lenny White found when he had a career change and decided to dedicate his life to becoming a barber for aged care residents.

Lenny says that men in care facilities were having their haircuts in women’s salons – something the never did in their younger years. Men were used to getting a cut and a shave at the barbers.

And because they were not used to their surrounding, it would often stress them out.

But to help his “customers” feel more comfortable, he’s set up his salon like a 1950s barbershop – fully decked out with old furnishings, posters and products while playing music by Elvis Presley.

The music and setting take the residents back to a familiar time and place.

“You have to take your time with them and be patient. Even the small things like sitting them down, tapping their shoulder, you know, keeping your hand on their shoulder and moving it across, letting them know you’re there.”

“Maybe even if they do get agitated, stop and reassure them. ”I’m your barber, I’m here to cut your hair”, show them the tools and get them to focus on who I am. That seems to work very well.”

Lenny only started cutting hair for the elderly, a job he describes as “incredibly rewarding”, in November 2016 – where all he would do is bring a small jukebox and use old-fashioned hair products that they would recognise.

“I wanted to create a masculine thing for the men where they could come in and have a bit of crack, a bit of banter and have a proper barber experience, basically”.

“That’s how it really all started. I went in, I played the music and I saw the difference.”

“In November 2016 I started at my first home. I have a wee jukebox to play CDs. I had Dean Martin and Elvis Presley.”

“The residents were relaxing, even the ones who were agitated. They were relaxing, singing along to the music, tapping their feet, and it created a real different atmosphere in the home.”

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This isn’t Lenny’s first exposure to aged care, as a teenager, he worked as a kitchen porter helping out at meal times.

Remembering how fulfilling that job was, he was inspired to go back to helping those who need a bit of extra care.

“I had just gotten to the stage where I knew that I wasn’t being fulfilled,” Lenny told The Daily Mail about his previous career in sales.

“I never forgot the care home job, I never forgot how it made me feel and the interaction that I had with the residents. That never left me.”

In 2017, Lenny won the Northern Ireland Alzheimer’s Society Award for Outstanding Contribution.

Lenny says he is planning to franchise his business, seeing that there are other groups aside from dementia who could do with a compassionate and understanding comfort.

Lenny hopes to work with, “the elderly, sick, stroke victims, stuff like that. I don’t do normal barbering”.

“It’s not easy, it has its challenges emotionally as well but it’s very, very rewarding.”

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