This Belfast Barber Helps Dementia Patients Across Northern Ireland

Keeping surroundings comfortable and familiar is the key.

Dec 2, 2019

Few hairdressers will tell you that a jukebox and a striped poll are essential supplies for a haircut, but for Lenny White they are. That’s because White travels Northern Ireland with his assistant, Jonathan Wray giving haircuts to dementia patients.

He runs a pop-up barbershop of sorts that cater to a special group of clients according to CNN. What's unique is that it is a replica of a traditional barbershop including a tabletop jukebox that plays Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. That's how he helps dementia patients connect to their memories.

 "When these men come into the room," White told CNN, "they think they are coming into the barbershop, which they really are. It is Lenny's Barbershop, but it's not on the Main Street. It's in their living accommodations in the care home setting."

Staff at the facilities, such as Kathie Stevenson manager of Beechvale Nursing Home, explain that White’s project and his fun demeanor helps patients get out of their room by cheering them up and giving them a purpose for the day.

She  saw a change in the behavior and mood of patients once White began visiting. Men that come in agitated often relax, while others tap their feet, sing, or even dance while waiting for their turn. 

Dementia has been recognized as a public health priority for the World Health Organization and there are around 50 million people with this diagnosis around the world. Because there is currently no cure for dementia, life-enriching experiences like the pop-up barbershop are important ways that healthcare providers can assist in creating a healthy and comfortable experience.

“It’s very therapeutic for our dementia clients, even those with very challenging conditions” Rhonda Robinson, manager of supported living at South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust told The Washington Post

While White started providing haircuts in assisted care facilities only two years ago, chatting up dementia patients is not new to him. In fact, he discovered this gift and passion at the age of 17, when he worked in a care facility washing dishes and serving food. 

White took a barbering course after working in marketing and the end of his marriage. When a friend told him that men in care facilities don’t get the same salon experience as women, he found his golden opportunity to build something unique. Soon after, White became known throughout Northern Ireland as the “dementia-friendly barber”. 

“He does it from the heart.” Renee Chimento, lifestyles director at an assisted living community in Montville, New Jersey said. “People feel that.”

Other initiatives help dementia patients feel comfortable in their living spaces. The Netherlands built the first village for dementia patients that has stores, grocers, and restaurants. Canada constructed a similar village in 2018. Keeping surroundings comfortable and familiar is the key.

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HILLA BENZAKEN, CONTRIBUTOR
Hilla Benzaken is a dedicated optimist. Her happy place involves cooking, acting, gardening, and fighting for social justice. She writes about all things sustainability, innovation, and DIY.