My Mother’s Hairdresser: Dementia friendly or not?
A touching account of how a local hairdresser volunteered to help, when others refused, to give my mother, who lived with Young Onset Alzheimer's, a glam haircut and made her look uber cool in her final years.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. As caregivers, we realize that it takes an entire community to deal with Alzheimer’s. Extended family members, friends, neighbors, healthcare professionals, coworkers, employers, employees, service providers like household help, etc.; a personalized universe of all these groups and more is essential to help a family cope with Alzheimer’s.
When a person with dementia enters the middle to late stages, they may experience difficulties with personal care. They may need partial or full assistance in bathing, going to the bathroom, changing their clothes, combing their hair, washing their hands after meals, etc. This loss of independence may come with feelings of shame and embarrassment and are often expressed through crying, agitation, aggression and shouting. It is important to remember that they may not be able to understand everything, but they can pick up on how we are making them feel. A lot of caregivers struggle with this, and so did my family. As family members, we may experience stress, irritation, anger, burnout and frustration during this stage.
Before mom fell sick, she had a very glam haircut. It was short and what we in India used to call a “boy cut” in those days. My fondest memories of childhood, before mom fell sick, involve her getting my dad to comb her hair with his round finger brush because she liked how he did it. As in most Indian families, there wasn’t much opportunity to witness other types of intimacy between my parents. But this to me is extremely sweet and intimate. As mom fell sick, getting her to go to a hair dresser was next to impossible. She hated looking at herself in the mirror. It would agitate her. She would also get very confused in unfamiliar surroundings. She wasn’t comfortable with anyone, even us, as we were strangers to her. I went to her regular hair dresser and asked her if she would come home to cut mom’s hair. The lady bluntly refused. I felt really hurt at that point; mom and I were her first customers, and had used her services for years.
It was then that my dad asked his hairdresser, Mahesh Bhai of Ashok Hair Art in the Naranpura neighborhood of Ahmedabad, if he would come home and cut mom’s hair as she wasn’t well. We didn’t have to ask again. We didn’t have to look further. Mahesh Bhai must have been in his late 20s when used to come to our house. He had a quiet and gentle manner about him. Mom would be sitting in her easy chair. He would quietly put a towel around her and go about his business. She would bob her head in different directions, and he would patiently reposition it. It would take him a while, but he never got mad or impatient. And in the end, she would look so classy in her crew cut hair.
It seems like a small thing. But as a teenager, whose family faced rejection from their own inner circle, this small thing meant a great deal. He never charged us an exorbitant sum or made us feel like he was doing us a favour. I guess he was one of the angels god sent us to take care of one of her children.
Ekta was a teen caregiver to her mom who lived with Young Onset Alzheimer's Disease. She is a social worker and works in the dementia space in Canada. Ekta revels in the simple things in life and blogs about her experiences at www.fromoutsidethemall.wordpress.com.