“You are ever so lovely, but you’re completely bonkers!”
This remark, from one of Denise Carr’s regular customers, delights her. Denise sees herself as much, much more than a hairdresser, offering everyone who comes into her care home’s salon a special ‘therapy’ session. Included as part of an appointment is a bespoke service that oscillates from chat to laughter, with personalised music and – perhaps – a little bit of sauciness thrown in.
Getting to know you
It goes to show that integrating great care and music can come from unexpected places. Such is Denise’s rapport with the residents at Fremantle Court in Stoke Mandeville, that she won Dementia Care Champion 2020 in the Dementia Care Awards. Fremantle Trust has 20 care homes, most of which have a salons. The dementia specialist colleague, Jill Conroy, who nominated Denise, said: “No other hair stylists are doing this for residents.”
Of her approach, Denise says: “I get to know all my ladies and gents, finding out what they like and asking their families, and I don’t shy away from mentioning dementia. I tell my ladies that we’ve only got little heads so of course we won’t remember everything!”
She will also always wear the same clothes, the same perfume and have the same hairstyle. Residents recognise her, even outsie the salon, which she attributes to the rapport she has generated.
“I use an Alexa to play music, because you can ask for specific songs or artists that you know a person enjoys. We also listen to m4d Radio because that’s a great source of music from different eras.”
Pre-COVID, Denise would sometimes have up to six people in her salon, most of them just popping in to enjoy the atmosphere. “I’d get them all doing different things to the music – stamping their feet, lifting their shoulders, clapping – then we’d all laugh when we got it wrong. There are constant giggles in the salon and I want people to leave feeling happy – belly-laugh happy.”
Beethoven to Queen
She continues: “When you know a person – and that can take ten minutes or several weeks – you can tell when they come in how they are that day. I adapt my approach accordingly. Some days they are not in the right place to have a laugh.
“I have one gentleman who likes classical music as it calms him down, so I’ll maybe put on a bit of Beethoven when he comes in. One of my regular ladies likes Queen, so I play that loudly for her. She closes her eyes and really gets lost in the music and I know she’s having a good time.”
One customer’s advanced dementia meant that she was no longer able to talk. Denise, who has Dementia BTEC training, decided to play her some vintage nursery rhymes. She explains: “I was doing the actions to the songs and I could see in her eyes that she was enjoying it. I helped her to start clapping and then just gently edged away so she was doing it herself.”
Denise was taught early on in her career that as soon as she entered her salon she was ‘on stage’ and her performances at Fremantle Court are certainly appreciated. “I like to go with the flow, but it’s about making people feel comfortable and just getting on with things,” she explains. “It’s also about treating people normally and knowing what is and isn’t within their scope. All my clients are welcomed as friends and I will introduce them to each other even if they’ve been sitting together all morning.”
Throwing herself into her role completely, Denise will frequently ask probing questions about what dance would go with a certain piece of music, do comical actions and urge people to show her their moves such as lifting their feet to ‘Knees up Mother Brown’. She’ll also prompt people to recall artists’ names, giving clues or describing them. “Sometimes I don’t know who it is either, or I make out that I don’t know,” she smiles.
Working closely with the carers, Denise doesn’t make fixed hair appointments but will fit customers in when they are in the right frame of mind, ‘in the moment’ or sometimes when they need a distraction. Sadly, despite receiving the award in November 2020, she has not been able to continue to work during COVID as she is not classed as part of the core care team.
With characteristic cheeriness, she is looking forward to soon being able to return. “I love my job and really miss not being there for everyone at the moment. I like that some people think I’m bonkers. It makes them less concerned about their dementia.
“My Dad always told me that if I find a job I like then I will never work again! And it’s true – I truly believe this is my calling and want to expand and share this as much as possible.”