The Beauty Shop

If my mother were still living, she would have been 78 years old next month.  I still remember, when I was young, her going to the beauty shop every week and sitting for a couple of hours while she got a shampoo and set.  Heck, before my brother and I were old enough to stay by ourselves, we were dragged along with her, homework and book in hand.  Somewhere along the line, she got one of those wash-and-wear hairdos that she could take care of herself.  But she still enjoyed going to the beauty shop on a regular basis for a trim or a perm or, later on, to have her hair frosted or colored.

Most of the women where I work are of about the same generation as my mother.  Many of them are as much as 10 to 20 years older.  These are the women who didn’t go out of the house unless their hair was perfectly coiffed, and their make-up and fingernails perfect.  And continuing this routine, even after they have taken up residence in a long-term care facility, is very important to them.  Fortunately, most places are very willing to allow the ladies to keep up this routine, in some fashion.

Some facilities are lucky enough to have a beautician who comes in every day to take care of the residents; others only have someone who comes in a couple days a week.  But the line of potential customers is always very long.  And I think this is a wonderful thing.  It’s truly amazing, to me, how a woman’s face will glow with pride after a visit to the beauty shop, and she will be more alert and willing/able to interact with others.

I firmly believe that it is very important for these ladies (and the men in these facilities, too) to be able to maintain some sense of “normality” in their lives.  Routine is so important, and not only because those procedural memories are so much a part of helping them complete activities of daily living and self-care tasks.  But keeping to those oh-so-important routines, whether they be going to the beauty shop or having two eggs over-easy with wheat toast for breakfast every morning, helps the person stay in touch with her personhood.  It helps her to know that she’s still the same person she was all those years ago when she walked down the aisle with her new husband, or when she was still able to go to work.

Men, especially older men, also have a routine that involves going to the barber shop every week.  They sit and chew the fat with the other guys, discuss the state of the world, and generally enjoy some good manly companionship.  It would be nice if long-term care facilities could have a barber shop as well, but the truth is that the percentage of men in these places is often rather small.  Often, when the men need a trim, the beautician just takes care of it.  But I do think it would be a great idea if one of the local barbers might be induced to come in a couple times a month, for a couple hours, to do the job.

I do recall one place I worked at where one of the workers in the Activities department sold Mary Kay cosmetics.  (For my readers who aren’t familiar with what this is, it’s a company that has a sales person who gets together with a group of women — usually in a home — and encourages them to try on make-up and then buy the products, in a party-like setting.)  Anyway, this staff member brought in her samples, and she and a couple other staff members, gave make-overs to some of the female residents.  Many of these were what I would refer to as being in the mid- to end-stage of dementia.  And yet, to see how they glowed (internally and externally) to have someone take the time to do up their faces, was truly inspiring.  Remember, these ladies were of the generation where it was highly improper to leave the house without having your face made up and your hair done.  Unfortunately, I only worked at that place for a short time, to fill in for someone who was on sick leave, so I didn’t see whether this was something they did on a regular basis.  But I hope it was.

So, after all of this rambling, where am I going?  I guess my point in all of this is to reinforce how important it is for those who work as caregivers for the elderly to remember how important it is for these people to maintain some sense of normalcy when it comes to seemingly little things like hair and make-up.  And this is true whether in a long-term care facility, or in the home.  But, what it really comes down to is an overall attitude.  We need to be sure that we encourage these wonderful persons, who have entrusted us with their care, to keep their minds and their bodies in tip-top shape.  And, we should help them to do so.  Not only will they generally live longer as a result, but they will be happier and have a better quality of life.

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