IT could be any other small, high street hair salon. The wash basins, the heated tools, the smell of hairspray and the chatter. The only difference is this one is in a hospital and all haircuts are free.

Every Wednesday, hairdressing students from New College Lanarkshire arrived at the elderly care ward at University Hospital Wishaw and treat patients suffering from dementia to free, morale-boosting blowdries and cuts. No one is turned away - it’s common for students and lecturers to miss lunch - and many work late to accommodate surprise visits.

The effect on patients can be transformative, according to those involved in the project The daughter of one woman said the experience “gave me my mother back.”

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“When the door closes the fun starts,” says Sharon Morrison, a nurse in nearby ward 9 who helps arrange appointments for patients in the little retro-styled salon, adorned with pictures of Twiggy and Brylcreem ads.

“For some older ladies, getting your hair done might be a weekly thing and it’s about maintaining this routine.” says Janice Miles, Senior Nurse leader for Older People.

“We wanted it to be as non-clinical as possible.” she says. “So there is an appointment book and everything else that you would expect in a salon but the number of people in the room is kept to a minimum and mirrors are not always used.”

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All students have been given training in dementia to recognise if patients are showing any signs of distress.

Moods can quickly go from “bliss to tears” and according to Jaccqui Ward, hairdressing lecturer, who also pitches in with cuts and styling, it’s not uncommon for clients to express shock when they look in the mirror and realise they have grey hair - on one occasion prompting an emergency trip to the shops for coloured hair mouse.

Pauline Middleton, from Motherwell, a second year student, whose client it was says: “Her colour had grown out and she thought we had coloured her hair grey. You just need to stay nice and calm.”

Wishaw hospital is leading the way in the care of patients affected by dementia, winning the Alzheimer Scotland award for best hospital project three years in a row - this year for the Styles and Smiles project. It has also launched a theatre buddy scheme, where relatives can accompany family members suffering from dementia into theatre and has a dedicated Meaningful Activity Club.

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The idea for the hair salon came from a porter who was taking an inpatient to an appointment and she expressed embarrassment about her hair and now other health boards across Scotland are taking notice.

While it’s mainly women who come in for appointments, students can also give male patients a barber standard shave and students and lecturers continue to come into the hospital through the Summer holidays.

Donna McGirr, Curriculum Leader for Hairdressing at New College Lanarkshire said: “It’s as much about the social interaction as the feel good factor. The patients love it but it’s also a great experience for our students, who can then take those skills into the community.”

HE came to life in a way we hadn’t seen for some time.” The minister of Springburn Parish Church in Glasgow is describing the profound impact of music on a dying man he was visiting in the throes of advanced dementia.

“He couldn’t talk or really acknowledge my presence.” says Reverend Brian Casey. “In a moment of inspiration, I got my phone out and remembered his family telling me that he was a Kenny Rodgers fan.

“It so happens that I have an extensive collection of Kenny Rodgers on my phone so I played the Gambler, his party piece. He came to life in a way we hadn’t seen for some time and started tapping his feet in time.

“It brought a tear to my eye and thanks to working with those living with dementia, I had found a unique method of communication.”

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The poignant experience came years after the minister helped launch the Musical Memories project in the church hall alongside Brian Smith.

Every Monday from 2pm, a group of around 40-50 people suffering from dementia and their families gather to sing traditional Scottish songs that hopefully stimulate happy memories.

The project was praised by cross-party MSPs at the Scottish Parliament for “bringing happiness to those living with dementia.”

“Musical Memories is definitely one of our big success stories as a Church.” says Reverend Casey.

“One of the last pieces of memory to go is the one for music.

“We also now see family, rather than carers, coming along too as the effect of the singing and dancing on the sufferers is tremendous. They go from being down to being happy and singing along. It’s almost as though some of their spark has returned and the family want to be a part of that joyous event.

“The group shows that the Church still very much has a place in the community. We are also committed to making this free at the point of need. “Long may it last. In fact, my hokey cokey dancing has improved immensely.”

OVER the years of her mother’s dementia journey, Sally Magnusson discovered almost by accident that music was the thing that helped her mum and the family most.

“Listening to favourite and familiar tunes gave my mother back her words – it could raise a smile, could calm her mood,” she explains. “It gave her back her sense of self.”

Sally set up Playlist for Life following Mamie’s death. The charity has grown to become a driving force in the quest to support people with dementia and their families.

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Sarah Metcalfe, chief executive of the charity, says: “Dementia care requires proper investment.

“We also need new ideas and creative solutions, which help us see the person not the condition and provide the care and human connection people with dementia need. All over the country, personal playlists are starting to help make this happen.

“Music is neurologically special - which is why it is uniquely powerful for people with dementia, creating joy and connection in the moment for them and those who love and care for them.”

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Sarah adds: “Music should be at the heart of Scotland’s dementia strategy. In the words of the umbrella campaign Music For Dementia 2020, music needs to be seen as a necessity, not a nicety.”

Playlist for Life wants every person with dementia to have a playlist and everyone who loves or cares for them to know how to use it.

“Playlist for Life has calculated that all this could be delivered in Scotland for less than one million pounds in the first year, and less than £250,000 a year for future years.

“That’s a drop in the ocean of the health budget but a way of embedding music into the health and care systems with far-reaching and positive consequences, for all those affected by dementia.”

If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article contact Alzheimer Scotland’s 24-Hour Freephone Helpline on 0808 808 3000.