“If I didn’t work here I would have quit this profession years ago.”
Jo-Anne Dowdall is the hairdresser at Extendicare Starwood long-term care home. She is the “Hairdresser to the Stars.” The stars in this case are Starwood’s long-term care residents.
“Lots of people can be hairdressers, but not every hairdresser can work with the elderly”, she says, while quickly removing curlers on a woman who appears to have been asleep since she arrived. As soon as Jo-Anne finishes the comb-out the woman wakes up and looks in the mirror. A big smile spreads across her face and she looks over to Jo-Anne. “Thank-you.” Jo-Anne smiles back, obviously pleased. Most of Jo-Anne’s clients don’t (or can’t) say thank-you, so hearing it once in awhile is nice.
Maria, a volunteer, brings in the next client, this time a man who can’t support his head on his own and who seems completely unaware of what is happening. Jo-Anne addresses him by name and tells him what she is doing as she cuts his hair. “Does he hear you – does he understand?” I ask. She shakes her head. “Probably not.” She shrugs, smiles, and talks to him anyway.
Long-term care homes are reserved for people in the health care system requiring extensive care for the rest of their lives. Residents may need help with anything from taking their medications to eating, bathing and toileting.
We often think of long-term care homes as reserved for the elderly, but younger people who have had accidents, strokes, or who have Huntington Disease (HD) or Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or other diseases live there too.
Regardless of their age or why they are there, almost everyone needs their hair done. It isn’t necessarily a job most hairdressers would want, yet Jo-Anne has worked with elderly or nursing home residents for twenty years and at Starwood for ten. She started her career working at a regular salon, but a friend asked her to help out for a couple of days at nursing home and she hasn’t looked back.
“Every day is a challenge when you work with this population, but I do love it. The hardest part of my job is when one of my residents passes on. You never get over that.”
“Why do you do it then?” I ask. “I mean, seeing so many people die…”
“Because I absolutely love my job. Not just the hairdressing part of it – actually being with these folks – I couldn’t stop.” She looks up and smiles at a resident waiting her turn.
“When you leave at the end of the day you feel so good. You have not only done someone’s hair … you know how good these folks feel just by watching the smile on their faces. It is a really great feeling knowing how good you made them look and feel.”