Appearance is not only about how we look but also about how we feel and how comfortable we are. The Hair and Care Project, research conducted by Richard Ward, University of Stirling; Sarah Campbell, University of Manchester; and Professor John Keady, University of Manchester, focuses on the role of hair care in dementia.
The research in the Hair and Care Project addressed the role of hair dressing from the view of the person living with dementia, their carers, their family and the hair dresser providing the hair care by:
1) exploring the experience of hairdressing for people with dementia
2) examining the workplace experience of care-based hairdressers and the perspectives of care workers
3) scrutinising and document the constituent elements of hairdressing encounters
4) considering patterns of provision, access and affordability of hairdressing services in different types of dementia care settings
Visiting the Salon
The Salon would be set up to recreate the typical salon setting, thereby providing a familiar space for many people with dementia.
Visiting a ‘Salon’ in the care setting gives the opportunity for a positive interaction, emphasis is placed on hairdressing as transformation, helping you to feel renewed. The hairdressers often have close relationships with their clients and act as ‘keepers of stories’ and remind them of forgotten details, they offer emotional support. At the same time a visit provides opportunity for physical contact and a chance for the client to be the centre of attention.
A salon visit could provide sensory cues linked to appearance (scents and perfume) which could also re-ignite memories of people and places.
However in many cases the spaces allocated for hairdressing were temporarily designated spaces, cramped and poorly ventilated.
The hairdressers working within the care home settings have often been working there for many years, there was a much lower turnover here than within care staff in many of the same environments.
The hairdressers themselves described their service as a ‘tonic’ for people with dementia and integral to their dignity, at the same time the hairdressers would work in isolation with their clients and they were generally not treated as part of the wider care team and as the hairdressers are in most cases operating on a freelance basis and none of them have been offered access to training by their host care providers.
For family carers the maintenance of a loved one’s appearance is often linked to a sense of continuity and the management of appearance after admission to care is often an area full of tension.
Recommendations and looking ahead
An overarching message from this research concerns the need to re-think our understanding of appearance and the part it plays in the lives of people with dementia. There is scope for appearance-related support to play a far more active role not only in supporting person-centred care but in enhancing the identities, self-expression and social participation of people with dementia throughout their journey with the condition.
- The research underlines the importance of understanding the role that appearance and the work invested in managing it has played throughout a person’s life and the potential it holds for continued self-expression.
- There is scope for greater integration of hairdressing and other forms of appearance-related support into the broader therapeutic objectives of dementia care. The salon is a very natural setting for reminiscence and life story work but also a place where people share insights into self-image, and voice concerns about their lives and their futures.
- There is a need to better recognise the work of care-based hairdressers as an integral part of the support that people in care receive.
- The dementia care industry and the hair and beauty industry could also consider developing targeted training and support for care-based hairdressers.
- The study identified a need for greater attention to questions of diversity and what this means for different types of body work such as hairdressing and care.