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Irish ‘dementia-friendly’ barber has a knack with the elderly

Armand Sabbag gets his hair trimmed by Lenny White. (Rina Friedman photo)

Northern Ireland’s “dementia-friendly” barber brought his skills to North America for the first time when he spent a week at a drop-in centre for seniors with Alzheimer’s and other cognitive problems in Côte-St-Luc, Que., recently.

Lenny White, who hails from Belfast, was brought in by the Cummings Centre, which runs the program, as the special guest of its Wellness Week.

White, 36, has gained quite a reputation in his native country over the past year for giving haircuts and shaves to elderly people in institutions, day programs and even their own homes. He’s been endorsed by the local Alzheimer’s Society.

White is adept at putting those afflicted with dementia at ease, something he gained experience with years ago while working in a care facility’s kitchen.

White brings a small jukebox and plays popular songs from yesteryear to get his clients in a relaxed mood. They are welcome to sing along as he plies his trade.

If the men leave with a smile on their faces, he knows he has done a good job.


One of his clients in the Côte-St-Luc Aquatic and Community Centre, where the program is based, survived Auschwitz as a teenager. He received extra pampering.

Cummings spokesperson Michael Beigleman said the agency discovered White online. “Whether it’s a care home, hospital or residential setting, Lenny recreates the traditional barbershop experience and helps restore some dignity to his customers,” Beigleman said.

White said that, “Each person is different, but I have learned that patience and talking with clients about what I am about to do really helps. That and the music is the thing that makes the most difference.”

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