Written by Miryam Clough
Co-Founder, Niche Jobs
A couple of weeks ago, I went to a new hairdresser. As she washed my hair, she was very careful to check that I was comfortable sitting at the basin and that the water was the right temperature. She told me what she was doing as she went along, and when she had to leave for a minute, she said she was going and explained why. She quickly put me at ease and I felt confident that she was concerned for my comfort and wellbeing for the 45 minutes I was with her.
Having taken residents with dementia to the hairdresser on many occasions and seeing how distressing it can be for them, I now tend to filter my experience through a ‘dementia lens’.
A few months previously, I had my hair washed by a hairdresser who didn’t communicate with me. She didn’t ask if I was comfortable or if the water was the right temperature. She didn’t tell me what she was doing or why she suddenly disappeared for a few minutes leaving me lying back with my head over the basin.
This was mildly irritating to me, but not distressing. I was fully aware of the environment and the process, I didn’t feel out of control. I knew what was happening to me. I could have spoken up at any point if I chose to and had the water temperature adjusted, or told the hairdresser that her scalp massage wasn’t really doing it for me.
For someone with dementia, that experience may well have been disorientating, frightening and distressing. Chances are, they would have tried to get out of the chair and may even have fought back; a legitimate response when you are being drenched with cold water and someone you don’t know is digging their long finger nails into your scalp!
Sensory perception can change for people with dementia. Sensations or temperature may be exaggerated, and water that may feel fine to you, can feel boiling hot or freezing cold to the person you are showering.
Routine tasks like using the toilet and showering can become bewildering experiences.
So, as a carer it is important to tell the person you are caring for what you are doing at each stage in the process, and to be checking with them as much as possible that they are comfortable.
People can feel very out of control and frightened in the care setting. The same is true in the community.
If I had dementia, I may well have given that non-communicative hairdresser a good slap.
I’m confident, however, that my experience of the first hairdresser I mentioned would have been positive and I’d have felt safe, reassured and cared for.